BY STEVE TRAIMAN, Contributing Columnist
As part of its expansive civic role in the St. Petersburg and Pinellas African-American community, “Duke Energy is very excited about our employee resource groups,” Alex Glenn, president of the company’s Florida utility operations, earlier told The Weekly Challenger (April 3-9 issue). “Advocates for African-Americans—A³ Florida—was started by Duke employees to focus on attracting, engaging and retaining African American talent.
“One success is its partnership with AABE Florida (American Association of Blacks in Energy), the concept designer, and Siemens of Central Florida with whom we’re planning our third annual Youth Energy Academy (YEA), with one class in Pinellas July 31-Aug 1, and a second in Winter Garden Aug. 7 – 8. The first YEA in September 2012, headed by Michael Lewis, senior vice president, Florida Delivery Operations, was a big success.”
This year’s first YEA session is at the Bartow Plant in St. Petersburg, with students suggested by strategic partners Job Corps of Pinellas County and Professional Opportunities Program for Students, Inc. Second session is a week later at the Winter Garden Training Center. Strategic partner support from other local youth outreach organizations includes the YMCA of Central Florida, Boys & Girls Club of Volusia County, Frontline Outreach, Collegiate Pathways, and Forest High School Ocala EMIT Program students.
How YEA Came Together
In an exclusive interview with The Weekly Challenger, Lewis said, “We have an outstanding group of leaders searching for ways to expand diversity while bringing value to Duke and reaching out to other employees and the community. Some of our A³ Florida group also were active in AABE, and thought that teaming with AABE and other area youth groups would be a good opportunity. There was strong support for pulling together a program taking students from school to career, giving more exposure for kids who might not have that opportunity.
“Driven by our goal to have our people become better leaders in the community, YEA was an opportunity for us to give back and put a face and personality to our company name. Starting at the end of 2011 when the concept was approved at Duke’s high management level, everything came together over a period of several months, which those partners noted earlier. It was a sense of urgency to pursue this elevated process quickly, which resulted in the first event in 2012.
“Looking ahead, it’s all about expansion and developing more partners. Our footprint covers 35 Florida counties and we want to give more students in our service areas a chance to participate with our partners. I see us looking into the Ocala area as our next expansion stage.”
YEA Focus: Energy Industry
Speaking at that first YEA, Lewis asked rhetorically, “Did you know that nationally, fewer than 10 percent of college-educated minorities choose to enter science and engineering career fields? It’s a trend that’s baffled recruiters, but Duke Energy is working on some innovative ideas to help change that.”
As to why more young African-American students don’t choose the math and science fields, Lewis cited a number of reasons:
- The energy and utility business isn’t a traditional line of work in the families many of these students come from. So they don’t see it growing up and, therefore, don’t consider it an option for themselves.
- Access can be a problem. While students are introduced to basic sciences in elementary school, as students move on through middle and high school, they don’t always get the unique experiences in the sciences that peak their interest. School budgets are always tight and if students live in a low-income area, the likelihood of them participating in field trips and advanced science classes is low.
- There are not enough mentors helping students both inside and outside of the classroom, and teaching students how to be successful in this industry.