NEED and Junior Achievement… Two great organizations that “think” alike!
Recently, NEED project staff have had the opportunity to work together with another nonprofit, Junior Achievement of Northern California, on two events that get to the heart of our shared mission, helping students be successful. The introduction came about through one of our California sponsors, Pacific Gas and Electric. PG&E has worked with NEED on a number of programs, including Solar Schools, Bright Ideas grants, Bright Minds scholarships and the New Energy Academy career technical education high schools program. Through their Charitable Contributions division, PG&E supports many other efforts that support schools and the community, including events conducted by Junior Achievement of Northern California. PG&E’s Fresno area Community Relations representative Angela Vega made the introduction on the hunch that NEED and JA might get along really well! Angela put us in touch with Regional Executive Director, Michelle Calandra, who contacted us to begin a dialogue about how we might work together with high school students who are interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers. Energy education activities are a perfect for STEM and NEED is the perfect partner! Subsequent conversations revealed many more common interests. Junior Achievement’s mission is to “foster work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills, and use experiential learning to inspire students to dream big and reach their potential.” This is accomplished largely by connecting local business leaders with K12 schools. Similarly, the NEED Project is engaged in work readiness and career awareness activities and programs, and we foster relationships with local businesses. The PG&E New Energy Academies are a perfect example of NEED providing support for both STEM and college and career preparation.

Fortunately, April presented two opportunities for NEED and Junior Achievement to work together. The first event was held on April 2 in Fresno and was called the Junior Achievement STEM Summit. Four high schools were represented and each brought about 25 kids. Several JA staff and one NEED coordinator facilitated, with additional volunteers from PG&E and other local businesses. Students rotated through six very hands-on stations, making “elephant toothpaste” (a yeast and hydrogen peroxide mixture), assembling and firing micro-rockets and my favorite, using three bathroom scales to get the total weight and find the center of gravity of a small but full size aircraft.

Rotations were followed by pizza and then the grand competition, engineering and building the most effective crane. Teams were formed that mixed students from the different schools, and each team was given the same selection of materials: wood dowels, fishing line, cardboard and tape, and were challenged to design a stable machine that could lift the greatest number of marbles. The cooperation among teammates and their high levels of energy and the sense of competition was impressive! Not surprisingly, only one team wasn’t begging for more time at the end of the design and build period. Everyone had fun, the students, the facilitators, and the teachers who tagged along! More about the STEM Summit here:

The second event took place at the Cabrillo College campus in Watsonville, Ca, on April 11 and was called the Junior Achievement “Social Innovation Camp”. Eight mixed school teams were composed from 42 high school students representing Watsonville High, CEIBA College Prep Academy, St. Francis High, Cypress High, and Everett Alvarez High. A variety of team building and preparatory activities were conducted in the morning and then teams were tasked with identifying a social challenge and developing a solution with a business plan to address the challenge. This could be a for-profit or a non-profit plan, but it was required to address the following entrepreneurial principles: marketing, innovation, resources, capital, partners, social impact, and target market.

Each team worked with an adult mentor from the business community and then students and mentors were treated to a very motivating keynote speaker during lunch, Danny Keith. Danny created a successful business in designing and selling skateboards for Santa Cruz clientele and left to found Grind Out Hunger, a non-profit that helps to feed the one in eight kids who are undernourished in Santa Cruz County. After lunch teams had just over an hour to complete their proposals, create a prototype, and rehearse for a 5-minute presentation.

Some of the issues teams tackled included childhood obesity, bullying, and homelessness. The winning team’s proposal was named “Success Center- Turning Can’ts into Cans: a comprehensive on-campus plan to offer college and career prep activities and curriculum during “zero-period”.
More about the event here:
Learn more about Junior Achievement here:

Students at the Watsonville Campus warming up for the Social Innovation Camp.

Morning icebreaking and teambuilding activities included engineering challenges, like building the highest tower with just marshmallows and pasta. All eight teams consisted of students from different schools who had never met before the event.