Georgia Co-op’s First STEM Day Promotes Energy Careers for High Schoolers

At GreyStone Power Corp.’s STEM Day in Hiram, Georgia, students watch a live line demonstration. (Photo By: Emily Young/GreyStone Power Corp.)

When GreyStone Power Corp.’s Rita Wilson was looking for an innovative way the west metro Atlanta provider could expose local high schoolers to careers in energy, she looked to rural America—the FFA—for inspiration.

FFA doesn’t have a strong presence in schools in the co-op’s increasingly urban service area, but Wilson had long admired the organization’s school-based career events emphasizing hands-on learning. But instead of agricultural-related jobs, she organized a special STEM Day on April 18 “to get kids excited about careers in energy.”

“Educating and attracting more students to pursue careers in energy after graduation is really what this initiative is about,” said Wilson, manager of human resources at the Hiram-based co-op and the event’s main coordinator. “We’re trying to find a way to get in front of more students by showing them our campus.”

Like many co-ops, GreyStone Power has been experiencing departures among linework crews, and it’s taking early steps to fill its workforce pipeline.

At GreyStone Power Corp.’s STEM Day in Hiram, Georgia, a student turns a crank on a turbine to generate electricity, while an employee from Oglethorpe Power looks on. (Photo By: Emily Young/GreyStone Power Corp.)

“It’s really hard to backfill line staff with six years or more experience,” Wilson said. “We seem to have better luck by bringing them in as apprentices and then training them for six years and allowing them to grow in the organization.”

During the first annual STEM Day, about 140 students from six high schools, divided into eight color-coded groups, made their way among several exhibits and activity booths. They heard presentations from Oglethorpe Power, Georgia Transmission, Green Power EMC and GreyStone Power on career opportunities. Representatives from the linework school at West Georgia Technical College and the energy pathway program at Paulding College and Career Academy also spoke.

Alexander High School’s Julie Jeffcoat led a group of 40 students enrolled in its work-based learning program. When students complete the program’s educational component, she helps place them in internships. “We’re constantly trying to expose students to different careers in our areas because we like to say, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’”

At GreyStone Power Corp.’s STEM Day in Hiram, Georgia, high schoolers try to turn bolts while wearing gloves, as a co-op lineworker looks on. (Photo By: Emily Young/GreyStone Power Corp.)

Georgia Transmission Corp.’s digital display was a big hit among AP computer and math students. The goal was to teach students how to count in binary, a method used in many computer systems.

“They knew all about that and were so excited,” Jeffcoat said. “They were like, ‘This is right up my alley. I love this.’ They learned that energy careers aren’t just about being a lineman, and that there’s a technology side, too.”

Other hands-on activities included attempting to twist bolts while wearing bulky linework gloves, climbing demos by GreyStone Power lineworkers, an Oglethorpe Power Corp. interactive hand crank exhibit showing students how a gas turbine generates power, and a drone presentation by the University of Georgia’s extension office. Wilson leaned on her community contacts to help defray costs associated with staging the event and got how-to advice from neighboring Carroll EMC on its FFA Days.

Wilson is already planning on a STEM Day for April 2025 and hopes that the advance notice will enable even more students to attend.

The inaugural event “was amazing. It was a fun day for all, and exhibitors and schools had great things to say.”

Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.