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School Solar Program Leads to Student Internships

Six Rancho Vista High School students were selected for internships at Murrieta-based Ambassador Energy Inc. as part of the school's Solar Technology Program.

TEMECULA, CA—Rancho Vista High School’s Solar Technology Program is barely one-year old, but the green energy training program is already growing and earning a reputation for the caliber of its students.

The Temecula Valley Unified School District Governing Board recognized Instructor Blaine Boyer and six of his students at its Jan. 22 meeting. Students Adrian Lucio, Jacob Kedizar, James Lemon, and German Monje are from the original class who started the solar training program a year ago; they completed training in December 2012. Micheal Sanchez and Jordan Harvey were selected from the beginning class and, starting this month, began the advanced training class at RVHS. All six were interviewed and selected for internships by Ambassador Energy Inc. in Murrieta.

What makes this a success story is that the company originally sought students for one or two internships, but was so impressed with RVHS applicants, it offered positions to all six. The Sparkman Alternative Education campus has 26 students enrolled in its Rancho Vista High School Solar Tech Program.

“Simply speaking, solar systems consist of solar modules that convert the sun’s energy into electricity. But there’s nothing simple about assessing, designing, installing, and servicing the needs of our customers. What really impressed us about these students was their creative resumés. Despite no real work experience, each used examples of responsibilities they had undertaken to demonstrate skills – everything from babysitting to participating in solar boat building. Additionally, they came to the interview nicely dressed and, with one exception, were on time. However, even the student who was late had an acceptable reason.

They were understandably nervous about interviewing, but all six came across as bright, determined young men.  We decided we wanted to give them all an opportunity to intern,” said Catherine Kelso, director of training for the company.

“While many solar energy companies sell solar systems through minimally-educated sales forces, Ambassador Energy strives to deliver real solutions that match the end user’s real needs. We are confident that these student interns will gain valuable knowledge and be an asset to our company,” she noted.

The internship position includes various tasks, from sorting and labeling parts in inventory to completing basic training in AutoCAD to assist with permit documentation. Prior to beginning work at Ambassador, students attended a one-day, company-sponsored photovoltaic training class. “We call it PV 101, which refers to PV (solar) cells. PV cells are the building blocks of all PV systems because they are the devices that convert sunlight to electricity,” she noted. “This training is very useful and comes in handy when using solar quoting tools. The prework done by an intern can easily save a sales rep 20 minutes,” she said.

“We will be giving each of the interns free access to our 30-hour online training program, Entry Level PV Design & Installation. This is a newly-developed, work-at-your-own pace, online course that we sell for $897. Completing the online course qualifies these students for the NABCEP Entry Level Exam. Passing this exam gives them an industry-recognized credential that could help them get hired by a solar company,” she added.

The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) is the “gold standard” for PV and solar heating installation and PV technical sales certification, Boyer noted. Raising industry standards and promoting consumer confidence, NABCEP offers certification and certificate programs to renewable energy professionals throughout North America.

The internship program began with Ambassador in early November and will continue as long as the six students are available, possibly through the summer, Kelso said. This is the first internship for RVHS in its 20+ year history.

“I’m really impressed with these kids,” said Kelly Smith, president of Ambassador Energy. “All six of them have fit right into our culture, enthusiastically helping with anything we need. Kudos to RVHS for thinking outside the typical classroom and crafting this fantastic win-win program!” she said.

The RVHS Solar Tech Program covers one year (two semesters). During the first half of the program, students learn about generating alternative energy, including solar and wind power. The program includes lessons on safety, wiring, energy calculations and more. The second half of the program is an advanced course on how to install solar systems such as those used in homes and businesses. 

“This class is very different from any other course the students have experienced,” Boyer explained. “I treat them as if they are employees and, if they goof off or don’t come to class, they can be fired – literally dropped from the class. I tell them this is what it’s like in the real world – no employer will tolerate absenteeism or sloppy work habits. It’s a very diverse class, and the only prerequisite to the green energy program is that students must have a strong interest and be able to do basic math. We do a lot of hands-on work in class and on a volunteer basis and, by the time students finish their training here, they will have completed two full solar panel installations. We also have a lot of fun, and I’m particularly proud of the work that 12 of my students have done on RVHS’s first entry in the local Solar Cup,” he said.

Solar Cup, sponsored by The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is the nation’s largest solar boat program. It is a seven-month program that begins in the fall, in which high school teams (totaling about 800 students from area high schools) build and race solar-powered boats at Temecula’s Lake Skinner. In the process, students learn about conservation of natural resources, electrical and mechanical engineering, problem solving, and teamwork. This year’s Solar Cup is May 17-19.   

Ambassador Energy has a three-pronged business model, including Ambassador Energy College Solar Training, the Ambassador Energy Agency Program, and Ambassador Energy, an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractor. Ambassador Energy EPC installs PV systems throughout California. Locally the company is located at 24630 Washington Ave. in Murrieta.

Rancho Vista High School is a continuation high school located on the Sparkman Alternative Education Center campus, 32225 Pio Pico Road in Temecula. The site also houses Rolling Hills Academy (home-school program), Susan H. Nelson High School (independent study), Temecula Advantage Virtual School, and Temecula Valley Adult School. For additional information, contact Principal Greg Cooke, 951-695-7320.

—News release

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