It wasn’t until Ray Griego attended a renewable energy conference at UC Berkeley that he realized “this is the way it should be.” That was in 1998, and since then, he hasn’t looked back. Once he saw the possibilities, Griego says, he had to pursue them.
After being an instructor for the electrical trades program at Navajo Technical University, Griego decided to make the switch to teaching about renewable energy – and in 2001 he was able to get the program up and running. He then received a $300,000 grant from the NASA, CIPA program for creating a program that is Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics related.
“The reason that I went into the renewable energy sector is that within the Navajo Nation there is about 25 percent of the Navajo community that lacks access to electricity. I thought it would be a good idea to start a course to help the community members help themselves,” says Griego.
What started out as a certificate program, has grown to the point where the university incorporated science courses, such as environmental science and geographic information technology, into the renewable energy program. Today, it’s a two-year program.
The program’s goal is to educate as many people and students from the community as possible — not exclusively those formally enrolled in the program. To achieve this goal, students implement projects that are highly visible in the community, such as a message sign whose sole source of energy is harnessed from the sun via a photovoltaic, stand-alone 48 volt system.
“For me, the enjoyable part is when students are putting things together. When they’re using theory and they’re using their knowledge to design a system, and are able to correctly piece things together and then that system actually works. My greatest thrill is when I see students grow through that type of experience,” he says.
Part of what makes the program unique, says Griego, is the fact that it’s been in existence as long as it has — it was one of the earliest such programs in the U.S. Currently, he says that one of their biggest obstacles is getting enough students graduating from high school to join the program. But as long as Ray Griego is a teacher, he says he’ll keep working hard to change that.
“As educators, we must continue to teach and promote renewable energy, and we need young people to get into this industry. We have to hand it over to bright, energetic young people. And I’m inspired to help young people to become the future educators in this industry.”