US Solar Decathlon expands to workforce development and mentoring high school students

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The Solar Decathlon, now in its 21st year, is expanding to bring the collegiate competition’s sustainable buildings expertise, experience and mentorship into high school classrooms and architectural studios across the country. In the past, the Solar Decathlon was an international collegiate competition that, in its 20 years, challenged more than 25,000 students to create efficient, affordable buildings powered by renewable energy, while promoting student innovation, cross-disciplinary education, and real-world training for a variety of careers.

In the future, the Solar Decathlon will expand to train professionals as well as to try to inspire high school students to seek careers in our zero energy future. Solar Decathlon Professionals (SD Pro) and Solar Decathlon Pathways (SD Pathways) are the two new programs that offer opportunities to learn from some of the competition’s most successful alumni and to develop proficiencies in the latest sustainable building software platforms.

“Solar Decathlon has always been about the students, and as we enter the competition’s third decade, now is the time to expand our offerings to include more scholars – from high schoolers preparing to choose careers to practicing professionals who are ready to learn new skills,” said Holly Jamesen Carr, director of the Solar Decathlon in the Building Technologies Office.

SD Pro for professionals

Developed by the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Solar Decathlon Professionals (SD Pro) with the intent to train industry professionals interested in integrating zero energy building techniques into their work.

“The Solar Decathlon is really a springboard to careers in clean energy,” said Secretary Granholm at the Solar Decathlon 2022 Competition Event, “but we need to grow the ranks of big thinkers with bold ideas for new buildings that are energy efficient, affordable, and designed with our communities in mind. That’s why we’re partnering with the American Institute of Architects to launch the new Solar Decathlon Professionals Program, which is aimed at imparting practical experience with zero energy building design to professional architects and engineers.”

SD Pro is aimed at early- to mid-career design professionals, and is designed to develop building science expertise, gain practical experience in designing zero energy projects, and earn continuing education credits (CEUs).  Participants will apply building science fundamentals to real-life projects, where they will be challenged to revise an existing building design to reach a zero-energy target.

The first 10-week course will be offered by the AIA beginning in June 2022. Register for an upcoming SD Pro cohort by emailing aiau@aia.org.

SD Pathways

While the Solar Decathlon has traditionally been aimed at college and graduate-level students, this fall, Solar Decathlon Pathways (SD Pathways) is aimed at high school students. The goal of SD Pathways is to inspire them to pursue clean energy careers. Solar Decathlon alumni will work with students on activities related to the built environment and renewable energy. By describing their own educational paths, and highlighting career opportunities in the clean energy and high-performance buildings sector, the SD alumni will be mentoring tomorrow’s clean energy workforce.

While speaking about SD Pathways, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said she was “thrilled to learn about the new Solar Decathlon high school program, Solar Decathlon Pathways. There is no one better suited to inspire the next generation of Solar Decathletes than our alumni network, which is now 40,000 strong and spread all over the world.”

Alumni participating in SD Pathways will receive a small stipend for each classroom they visit. If you are a Solar Decathlon alum or an educator interested in learning more about SD Pathways, complete the interest form

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