Duke Youth Energy Academy Team earns highest company award

Duke's Youth Energy Academy

BY STEVE TRAIMAN, Contributing Columnist

ST. PETERSBURG — After the success of this year’s two Youth Energy Academy programs, the team that put the events together was honored with Duke Energy’s highest award, the James B. Duke award.

Alex Glenn, president of the company’s Florida utility operations, told The Weekly Challenger, “We are extremely proud of the YEA team. Malcolm Barnes, Francis Foster, Mikle Gordon, April Harley, David Maxon and Melvin Philpot represent who we are as a company.

“Of the nearly 30,000 Duke employees, only 25 received this award in 2014.  The honor recognizes our employees’ commitment to Duke Energy’s behaviors: safety, customer focus, trust, accountability, agility and collaboration. The Youth Energy Academy is making a difference today and will enhance the communities we serve for years to come. The first YEA in September 2012, headed by Michael Lewis, senior vice president, Florida Delivery Operations, also was a big success.”

In partnership with AABE Florida (American Association of Blacks in Energy), the concept designer, and Siemens of Central Florida, Duke Energy’s Advocates for African Americans—A³ Florida, put together the third annual Youth Energy Academy (YEA), with one class in Pinellas July 31-Aug 1, and a second in Winter Garden August 7-8 (see The Weekly Challenger July 24 issue).

Gerrol Vereen1This year’s first YEA session was 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 was a week later at the Winter Garden Training Center. Strategic partner support from other local youth outreach organizations included the YMCA of Central Florida, Boys & Girls Club of Volusia County, Frontline Outreach, Collegiate Pathways, and Forest High School Ocala EMIT Program students.

Each two-day event was aimed at providing energy industry career awareness to high school students in underserved communities. Through an abundance of support from A3 volunteers, Duke Energy leaders, and strategic partners, the event’s goal was to deliver insights for STEM (engineering and corporate) and Craft & Technical (line and generation) tracks. Day 1 focused on corporate culture, soft skills exercises and live demonstrations. Day 2 centered on the specific tracks, with the approximately 50 students at each session rotating through hands-on experiments and exercises, supported by subject matter experts.

Gerrol Vereen

Gerrol Vereen

“I have just recently attended the Youth Energy Academy at Duke Energy, said Gerrol Vereen, Student Government President at Pinellas County Job Corps Center. “What grabbed my attention first was the fact that the company works as one unit – a family.  Duke Energy offers great jobs that can lead to great careers. The company cares about their employees’ safety but also their education. They will put you through college to further the mind, but also improve on your career within the company. One thing I can definitely say is that Duke Energy is a great opportunity for anyone interested in a good career.”

Lewis, who also spoke at both recent YEA programs, earlier had explained how YEA came together: “We have an outstanding group of leaders always 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 the end of 2011 when the concept was approved at Duke’s highest management level, everything came together over a period of several months with those partners noted earlier. It was a sense of urgency to pursue this elevated process quickly, which resulted in the first event in 2012.

“The Duke diversity and inclusion goals recognize that a diverse, multicultural workforce makes good business sense and is necessary to support the innovation and high performance required in our aggressive and changing industry. In order for the new Duke Energy to continue to be a leader in the energy domain, it is imperative we remain competitive in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce.

“When the students were in the classroom and when they engaged with our people, it was great to see their enthusiasm as they were totally oblivious to what the opportunities are in our industry.

When I spoke to students in 2012, I noted the opportunity for them to join a topflight team. Our organizational pride is very attractive, and they can belong to Duke as a family. That YEA attendee today can be a teammate of mine, and in my 28 years I have seen many of us grow together as a family.

“The Youth Energy Academy continues to attract an exceptional, diverse group of students that show amazing promise and demonstrate remarkable interest in our industry.  This is a wonderful example of our employees investing their time and talent in our state’s future. Based on this year’s success, we are planning on making the YEA bigger and better next year.”

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