All posts by Gabriella Gallo

Neuroscience Center

Veterans Come Home to Clean Slates and Clean Jobs

When Stephanie Kline returned from her deployment as a member of the United States Marine Corps, she was stunned.

She, along with 200,000 service members in the next five years, faced the reality of unemployment.

“It is terrifying. You don’t know where you’re going to have a job, how you’re going to get a job, what you’re going to do,” Kline said.

The transition from active duty to civilian life is not always welcoming, but the solar energy industry is working towards inclusion.

Pilot programs like Solar Ready Vets are working to train veterans in this industry during deployment. This would allow returning service members to join companies like Strata Solar as soon as they return home. This partnership produces mutual benefit—as veterans receive a smoother transition, the clean energy industry will continue to expand.

March 25, 2010 - Florida Power & Light Company's DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, a 25-MW solar power plant featuring high efficiency SunPower solar panels mounted on the SunPowerAE T0 Tracker. (Photo by SunPower Corporation)
March 25, 2010 – Florida Power & Light Company’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, a 25-MW solar power plant featuring high efficiency SunPower solar panels mounted on the SunPowerAE T0 Tracker. (Photo by SunPower Corporation)

Why do veterans have trouble finding work upon returning home?

Veterans return home with a unique skillset for the workforce that is not always utilized.

Maria Barker, Director of Human Resources at Strata Solar, sees these fears on the company’s side of the interaction. The mindset of returning veterans are “Nobody wants to hire me, they want to pay me minimum wage, or they just think I’m a killer,” Barker explained. She said companies don’t realize veterans can actually be strong leaders.

Kimberly Williams, Executive Director for North Carolina for Military Employment (NC4ME), agreed with Barker.

“One percent of the nation’s population is in the military, and the other 99 percent of the population don’t understand what they do when they’re in the military,” Williams said.

This misunderstanding on both sides is preventing many of this nation’s veterans from attaining employment.

Why would veterans be interested in working for a solar energy company?

Energy is a huge part of the day-to-day operations in the military. Kline learned first-hand that you can’t do anything without it. Veterans come home from deployment and realize the catastrophes that could have been avoided by solving energy problems.

Veterans start to question if every spill, leak, fire, or shortage was necessary. Could they have been avoided by paying more attention to energy? Everyone comes home with at least one way to finish the sentence, “Energy is something I might be interested in because…” Kline explained.

When they are connected to solar energy through an employment program, the connection lasts.

“When you can find a job and you can tap into your skill set, you get to work on a team made up of primarily veterans, and you can demonstrate your value in a company in a very tangible way, that becomes a huge part of having a meaningful relationship and create that retention in the workforce,” Kline said.

Strata Solar’s Maria Barker promises veterans that they will not be confined to fieldwork.

“I think the initial response is ‘will I just be in the field?’ But we have vets in the office, in our HR department, in our legal department, on our leadership team. You can wear multiple hats like everyone else does in our organization,” Barker said.

Barker proposed that the most important thing for veterans to realize is that in the solar industry “They can actually come out and have a true purpose. And that makes them truly proud.”

What companies are out there to connect veterans with clean energy jobs?

North Carolina for Military Employment (NC4ME) was started to get veterans employed both on the state level and on the national level. Williams says that there will be 78,000 transitioning service members in the next three years.

NC4ME is in place to solve two problems: “Big companies understand the value of hiring veterans, but they don’t know how to connect to a service member,” said Williams. “The bigger problem is that 75% of these transitioning service members are going to work for small- or medium-sized business, and those are the people who don’t understand the value of hiring veterans.”

Williams and NC4ME work to solve these problems by bringing the companies like Strata Solar to the actual veterans. This program’s connection process has a 50% success rate.

“As an employer, for every two people I interview I am going to hire one. That just blows me away,” Williams said.

Since its kickoff, NC4ME has placed over 500 service members with jobs. Then it is up to the individual solar companies to continue the success.

Why is the solar energy industry recruiting veterans for work?

Maria Barker realized that Strata Solar was missing a big skillset when building their solar farms. She turned to veterans when she was in need of leadership to fill this gap.

“They are hard workers, that goes without saying. They are passionate, they are great leaders, you put a challenge in front of them and they are not going to fail. They are going to motivate their team,” Barker said. “They have taught us how to be a better team member, and then helped us to realize how to come together as a team.”

As a veteran, Stephanie Kline couldn’t agree more. “We make phenomenal business sense. The major thing that we get out of the military is that we are trained to learn in a specific way. We are very tactical. We can transfer that to any type of technical skill, and make that process work.”

To Williams, there is no reason not to hire veterans. “Service men stay on their jobs twice as long as their peers that don’t have military experience,” Williams said.

Are other clean energy industries also looking to hire veterans?

Currently, no. “The timing was really right for solar, but there is no reason why other companies cant kick-start this,” said Kline. “Clean energy is a great opportunity for veterans. It is a great matchup of skills, of interests, of the ability to withstand the elements.”

What is the best way to grow the employment of veterans in this industry?

“It takes the military to be very interested in these issues, it takes the transitioning service members to want more options, it takes companies within the community to say ‘We want to hire vets, we know we can hire vets, we need help doing that’…We need that pipeline,” said Kline of the Department of Energy.

Barker of Strata Solar added that “It is a matter of trusting that mutual relationship of back and forth, giving them the skills that they need, opening up the door to opportunity, while also giving them back the proper feedback of an employer because they need to know that you’re listening to them and you are there for them.”

“They just need to believe that you believe in them,” Barker said.

 

 

 

A Day in the Life: A Veteran Employed at Strata Solar

Strata Solar is a solar provider committed to clean energy and workforce development. The company has reinvented the hiring process by targeting a workforce they believe to have the strongest technical and leadership skills. They have turned to veterans.

Harrell Watts is the Senior Human Resources Recruiter at Strata Solar, and a veteran himself. Below is some information Watts shared about his role in the clean energy industry.

Date Created: 2014:05:05 Photographer: Dennis Schroeder Photographer Title: N REL Photographer Credit: Dennis Schroeder / NREL Source: NREL City: Alamosa State/Province: Colorado Country: United Stated of America Restricted Use: NO
Date Created: 2014:05:05; Photographer: Dennis Schroeder; Photographer Title: NREL; Photographer; Credit: Dennis Schroeder / NREL; Source: NREL; City: Alamosa; State/Province: Colorado; Country: United Stated of America; Restricted Use: NO

Where and when did you serve?

I served during the Vietnam era. I went into the United States Marine Corps in 1972 and got out in early 1976.

Upon returning home, did you know where you wanted to work?

Yes, when I first entered the Marine Corps I was technically a college drop out. I had promised my mother that I would eventually finish school, so my first priority upon getting out of the Marine Corps was to return to Central Michigan University and complete my degree.

How easy was it for you to find a job as a veteran? Did you sell yourself as a veteran or as a college graduate?

I was actually recruited out of college for a job, so finding a job was not too difficult for me. I went into sales, actually. My degree was in Speech Pathology. Back in those days we had a major and a minor, and my minor was in Education. So I am a teacher, heavily into the sciences. Also I was a speech pathologist, but I never actually went into that line of work. I was more focused on the jobs in sales right after college.

How and when did you find out about Strata Solar?

I found out about Strata Solar around this time last year. They were having a job fair in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and it was rather interesting how I found out about it. I used to go to the library to do research. Interestingly enough it was mostly on being green. There was a young man who came into the library on the day I was in there, and he said that this company named Strata Solar was looking for people. He said they were going to have a job fair over at the Holiday Inn the following day, and he was just letting people know.

At the time I wasn’t really looking for a job, but I thought, “well if it’s a solar company, and it’s a green company, then I would like to find out what they’re all about.” So I just went to the job fair.

What roles have you played at Strata Solar?

I have played the role of a Corporate Recruiter. But that role in and of itself has actually developed. I was one of the people that went to the job fairs. So in the fall we went to a few of them. What we found in our travels was that there were times that we wished we had more background information about the areas that we were going to, in order to conduct the job fairs.

So they asked me if I would go out and look at the area, look at the hotels in the area, look at venues for job fairs, and things of that nature. I started doing that and it evolved. So now I still that, but I also do “et. all” work. Which means whatever my boss needs me to do, I’m there.

 What are some examples of your “et. all” work at Strata Solar?

For example, I just did a project for Strata Solar Construction Employees, where I found out who all of the people in the company are and where they’re located and put it all in a spreadsheet. I’ve also written a code of ethics. It has not been taken up by the company just yet, but they’re still looking at the one I wrote.

What is your favorite thing about you role in the company?

Strata is a growing company. They are in the position right now to expand, and we are expanding very rapidly. In doing so, we are coming up with a number of different processes to help the company grow.

We used to refer military background them as SOP’s, or Standard Operating Procedures. Strata is at a position right now where they growing so rapidly, that a number of SOP’s are not in place. So we are helping to place them down in the HR department, and put together a lot of processes to help the company and the workforce grow.

Why are people with a military background a logical choice for Strata Solar when hiring?

I think the most important thing is that the average military individual is very disciplined. They also understand what is referred to as a chain of command. In doing so, it makes it easier for a company to instruct these guys on what to do out on the field or in the office. We have a protocol that is usually followed, and they need to follow this protocol and processes in order to make something work.

When you are hiring military personnel, what role are they coming in to fill?

Well we are actually hiring for all lines. We target a lot of military personnel for the outside fieldwork. For example, a job like a construction manager, because most of the people coming out of the military that we target have the experience of managing other individuals. When you need to build a solar farm, you have to have guys who understand how to manage people out in the field.

Are these commitments long-term or short-term?

These are long-term commitments.

Why do you enjoy working for Strata Solar?

Strata as a company is an excellent company to work for. I say that because they really care about their employees. They are working very hard to try to make a good life for their employees, in terms of benefits and salaries and things in that nature. But they are also getting to that point where they are looking to their employees at people, rather than numbers that are just out there

Why do you think other veterans enjoy working for Strata Solar?

When you take the military into account, a lot of these guys do all the right things. But in the military you’re always looking to get some type of advancement. That is what Strata is also doing. They are taking people, for example, who come in as a construction lead or a foreman, and then they are moving them up to the next levels, like site superintendents and construction managers. I think that that is going to not only help the company grow, but it will solidify the company with a lot of good people who feel like there is some loyalty coming from the company, and being military in their background, they are going to give that loyalty back.

 

 

The Rise in Tides Gets Personal

Pacific Ocean
Photoby Warren Gretz Photographer

When Joan Ajmo migrated down south for the winter, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She knew after twenty years things would be different, but could never have predicted this outcome. The home that she raised her family in now had a completely different landscape than the one she had always known and loved.

Ajmo is a South Florida native, but moved to Connecticut about 30 years ago. She returned to Florida many times throughout the years, but never actually got to stand on her own dock again. It is looking as though this time might be the last.

Her old home is built on the edge of a canal that feeds into the intercostal. Many years ago, this waterway was the Plantation neighborhood hangout.

“It was a place that brought the community out here together,” Ajmo said. “Our kids grew up jumping in this water, playing games on the dock, and boating every weekend. It’s a shame no one cares to keep it up anymore.”

Ajmo is referring to the damage that has been done to housing property due to the rising water. Old boating ramps are completely underwater, docks are falling apart and the pollution is uncontrollable.

Ajmo’s old neighbor, Andrea Noble, received what the neighborhood perceives to be the worst hit.

During low tide, Noble’s family boat was tied off to their property. The rope wasn’t fully secure, and as the tide started to rise, their boat had nowhere to go but up.

The boat got stuck under the dock, and as the tides changed, the boat began to rise, lifting the dock. The Noble family didn’t notice until it was too late, and much of their dock is nonexistent today. Their boat still operates, but the damage of the incident, and many others like it, are still visible.

The sea level had never previously been high enough to pose any structural problems, so issues like these are fairly new. The people in this neighborhood have had to adapt their homes and their lives to the new threat of the sea.

Incidents like these are becoming more and more common. According to The Union of Concerned Scientists, there has been a steady acceleration in the rise of sea levels since 1995 as compared to the previous rate of 0.7 inch per decade.

And they predict that the water level along coasts could rise another 2.6 to 5.3 feet in the next century if things continue this way.

These numbers are not specific to Florida. Many people on the coast of North Carolina are also experiencing similar newfound challenges with the rise of sea levels.

One of North Carolina’s largest tourist centers, the Outer Banks, is currently disappearing from sight. National Geographic reported in an article, Rising Seas, that the beach has receded about 2,500 feet in the past 150 years in a certain area of Hatteras Island.

Sharon West, resident of Davie, Florida, and owner of a vacation home in Wilmington, North Carolina, can personally attest to this fact. Her and her family have watched the docks shorten over time, as they get eaten more and more by the ocean each year.

Ruined aesthetics are not the only down side of the rising tides in North Carolina. West is familiar with the hardships sea level rising has placed on the real estate market.

“The higher the water, the smaller the beach, the less people want to buy those homes,” West said.

If the coast of North Carolina is becoming less of an attraction for residents, tourists might too soon follow suit. The issue of rising seas would become one of climate as well as economics. Before the trend reaches this point, however, there are things individuals can do to slow the rate of the rise.

The improvements that can be made on the smallest scale are those concerning carbon emissions. Small everyday lifestyle changes can decrease everyone’s specific carbon footprint and, when compiled, these reductions can make a vast difference.

Reducing motor vehicle exhaust might be a small and easy place to start. This can initially be done by carpooling more often or walking short distances instead of driving. Ultimately, the most profound impact would be making the switch from a traditional fuel-run motor vehicle to an electric vehicle.

Other steps towards a change would include being educated, cautious and aware of the effects of the products and utilities that people are using.

Cutting back on chemical solvents such as herbicides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers would contribute to a positive impact.

Buying products from local suppliers would remove the need for shipping on exports, which would in turn reduce carbon emissions.

Being aware of where personal electricity comes from could also encourage people to make the change towards renewable energy.

No matter the state, there are things that people can do individually to help stop this trend towards a rise in sea level. West didn’t understand the need for these changes until her life was personally affected.

“I didn’t believe it until I saw it,” she said.

Veterans Come Home to Clean Slates and Clean Jobs

When Stephanie Kline returned from her deployment as a member of the United States Marine Corps, she was stunned.

She, along with 200,000 service members in the next five years, faced the reality of unemployment.

“It is terrifying. You don’t know where you’re going to have a job, how you’re going to get a job, what you’re going to do,” Kline said.

The transition from active duty to civilian life is not always welcoming, but the solar energy industry is working towards inclusion.

Pilot programs like Solar Ready Vets are working to train veterans in this industry during deployment. This would allow returning service members to join companies like Strata Solar as soon as they return home. This partnership produces mutual benefit—as veterans receive a smoother transition, the clean energy industry will continue to expand.

March 25, 2010 - Florida Power & Light Company's DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, a 25-MW solar power plant featuring high efficiency SunPower solar panels mounted on the SunPowerAE T0 Tracker. (Photo by SunPower Corporation)
March 25, 2010 – Florida Power & Light Company’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, a 25-MW solar power plant featuring high efficiency SunPower solar panels mounted on the SunPowerAE T0 Tracker. (Photo by SunPower Corporation)

Why do veterans have trouble finding work upon returning home?

Veterans return home with a unique skillset for the workforce that is not always utilized.

Maria Barker, Director of Human Resources at Strata Solar, sees these fears on the company’s side of the interaction. The mindset of returning veterans are “Nobody wants to hire me, they want to pay me minimum wage, or they just think I’m a killer,” Barker explained. She said companies don’t realize veterans can actually be strong leaders.

Kimberly Williams, Executive Director for North Carolina for Military Employment (NC4ME), agreed with Barker.

“One percent of the nation’s population is in the military, and the other 99 percent of the population don’t understand what they do when they’re in the military,” Williams said.

This misunderstanding on both sides is preventing many of this nation’s veterans from attaining employment.

Why would veterans be interested in working for a solar energy company?

Energy is a huge part of the day-to-day operations in the military. Kline learned first-hand that you can’t do anything without it. Veterans come home from deployment and realize the catastrophes that could have been avoided by solving energy problems.

Veterans start to question if every spill, leak, fire, or shortage was necessary. Could they have been avoided by paying more attention to energy? Everyone comes home with at least one way to finish the sentence, “Energy is something I might be interested in because…” Kline explained.

When they are connected to solar energy through an employment program, the connection lasts.

“When you can find a job and you can tap into your skill set, you get to work on a team made up of primarily veterans, and you can demonstrate your value in a company in a very tangible way, that becomes a huge part of having a meaningful relationship and create that retention in the workforce,” Kline said.

Strata Solar’s Maria Barker promises veterans that they will not be confined to fieldwork.

“I think the initial response is ‘will I just be in the field?’ But we have vets in the office, in our HR department, in our legal department, on our leadership team. You can wear multiple hats like everyone else does in our organization,” Barker said.

Barker proposed that the most important thing for veterans to realize is that in the solar industry “They can actually come out and have a true purpose. And that makes them truly proud.”

What companies are out there to connect veterans with clean energy jobs?

North Carolina for Military Employment (NC4ME) was started to get veterans employed both on the state level and on the national level. Williams says that there will be 78,000 transitioning service members in the next three years.

NC4ME is in place to solve two problems: “Big companies understand the value of hiring veterans, but they don’t know how to connect to a service member,” said Williams. “The bigger problem is that 75% of these transitioning service members are going to work for small- or medium-sized business, and those are the people who don’t understand the value of hiring veterans.”

Williams and NC4ME work to solve these problems by bringing the companies like Strata Solar to the actual veterans. This program’s connection process has a 50% success rate.

“As an employer, for every two people I interview I am going to hire one. That just blows me away,” Williams said.

Since its kickoff, NC4ME has placed over 500 service members with jobs. Then it is up to the individual solar companies to continue the success.

Why is the solar energy industry recruiting veterans for work?

Maria Barker realized that Strata Solar was missing a big skillset when building their solar farms. She turned to veterans when she was in need of leadership to fill this gap.

“They are hard workers, that goes without saying. They are passionate, they are great leaders, you put a challenge in front of them and they are not going to fail. They are going to motivate their team,” Barker said. “They have taught us how to be a better team member, and then helped us to realize how to come together as a team.”

As a veteran, Stephanie Kline couldn’t agree more. “We make phenomenal business sense. The major thing that we get out of the military is that we are trained to learn in a specific way. We are very tactical. We can transfer that to any type of technical skill, and make that process work.”

To Williams, there is no reason not to hire veterans. “Service men stay on their jobs twice as long as their peers that don’t have military experience,” Williams said.

Are other clean energy industries also looking to hire veterans?

Currently, no. “The timing was really right for solar, but there is no reason why other companies cant kick-start this,” said Kline. “Clean energy is a great opportunity for veterans. It is a great matchup of skills, of interests, of the ability to withstand the elements.”

What is the best way to grow the employment of veterans in this industry?

“It takes the military to be very interested in these issues, it takes the transitioning service members to want more options, it takes companies within the community to say ‘We want to hire vets, we know we can hire vets, we need help doing that’…We need that pipeline,” said Kline of the Department of Energy.

Barker of Strata Solar added that “It is a matter of trusting that mutual relationship of back and forth, giving them the skills that they need, opening up the door to opportunity, while also giving them back the proper feedback of an employer because they need to know that you’re listening to them and you are there for them.”

“They just need to believe that you believe in them,” Barker said.

Pros, Cons, or Confusion: UNC Students take on Diesel Fuel

For the most part, students at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill understand that diesel fuel is not the best option. But there is some shared confusion over why it came into the industry, and what it is still doing here. Volkswagen and other diesel fuel companies have recently been busted for making these cars seem more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Post-scandal, other transportation industries are on the rise. In order to gage community understanding of the effects of this scandal, students were asked, “what do you know about diesel fuel?” Their responses are posted below.

Diesel Fuel: The Not So Safe Alternative

Carbon dioxide emissions have always taken most of the blame for climate change. Looking to reduce harmful emissions, politicians in the 1990’s turned towards diesel-fueled cars.4 Little did these leaders know that diesel engines would too produce dangerous health hazards.

The rise of these cars led to the rise of airborne nitrogen oxides and soot. These harmful pollutants negatively affect the lungs and respiratory system, as well as form smog. Children and the elderly are especially at risk for adverse health effects from the emissions.

Individual countries have taken unique strides to reduce the level of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. In the United States, regulations set an emission limit of 70 milligrams per mile. States can then take further action and adopt individualized programs that reduce NOx emissions.

The regulations in places like the New England states initially reduced the nitrogen oxide levels. Unfortunately, there was a surge in levels that were collected in a 2014 on-road test. The California Resource Board took the first steps in the investigation against diesel-fueled cars.3

This board found Volkswagen vehicles producing different emissions under tests than when on the road. Volkswagen admitted that their software detected the environment and reduced NOx emissions under testing. Eleven million vehicles on US roads are producing almost 40 times the legal NOX level.7

The EPA has estimated that around 500,000 vehicles have affected engines. This does not include the larger number of international vehicles that are illegally operating. Audi and Porshe diesel models were too most recently found using this method of cheating.3

Developments to decrease NOx emissions have been made, starting with this discovery. The EPA is forcing Volkswagen to recall seven of its models in the United States. A civil lawsuit has also been filed against Volkswagen by the Justice Department.6

It is hard to undo the harm that has been done. Investigations are occurring both nationally and globally to try and prevent further damage. The vehicle industry is looking to the European Commission for a more representative emissions test.4

Diesel sales have been declining, and took a steep drop after this scandal. Europe will likely make the largest impact when they force cars off the road. A step away from diesel would reduce the largest contributor to NOx pollution: road transportation.8

Alternative diesel cars are made with particulate filters, which offer reduced pollutant emissions.2 Others have catalytic converters which use ammonia to produce water and harmless nitrogen.9 Both developments are noteworthy but not the ultimate solution.

A risk to these improvements is the possible switch back to gasoline-powered cars. This alternative is by no means a better solution. The cleanest way of road transportation is the use of no fuel at all.

 

Bibliography

  1. Ranault Raid Exposes Foul Plan on Clean Diesel, January 18, 2016

Wichita Falls Times Record News (TX) (America’s News)

  1. A Look Back at 2015, December 29, 2015

Appeal-Democrat (Marysville – Yuba City, CA) (America’s News)

  1. How Volkswagen Got Away With Diesel Deception, January 5, 2016

The New York Times

  1. Volkswagen: The Scandal Explained, December 10, 2015

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  1. Pollution- VW Denied Deception for a Year, September 22, 2015

Houston Chronicle (TX) (America’s News)

  1. Volkwagen’s Nightmare is About to Get Worse: Here Come the Class Action Lawyers, September 22, 2015

BuzzFeed News

  1. How much Pollution did VW’s Emission Cheating Create?, October 9, 2015

The LA Times

  1. Emissions Scandl: How the Drive for Diesel Ran Out of Gas, September 30, 2015

The Guardian

  1. How the Newest Diesel Engines Emit Very Little Greenhouse Gas Nitrous Oxide, September 14, 2013

Targeted News Service (USA) (America’s News)

  1. CISD Bus Fleet makes the Grade for Clean Air- Environmental Firms Applaud District’s Efforts to Reduce Fumes from Engines, March 6, 2006

Houston Chronicle (TX) (America’s News)