YEA students participate in a fire hydrant demonstration at OUC’s Pershing Technical Training Facility.

For 18-year-old Dominique Barton, attending the two-day Youth Energy Academy was an eye-opening experience into a world of career opportunities in the energy industry. For another academy attendee, 15-year-old Deshawn Samuels, the thought of working for a utility seemed exciting after he participated in field activities at OUC’s Pershing Technical Training facility.

Barton and Samuels were among the 50-plus local youths who visited OUC—The Reliable One on July 27 as part of YEA’s “career exploration” program. The previous day, the group spent time at the Duke Energy Winter Garden Training Center and Siemens Wind Turbine Training Center in Orlando. Sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy, the academy seeks to expose African-American students in grades 9-12 to careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

“It’s awesome, the fact that I can get all this information in one place,” Barton, a 2019 Edgewater High graduate, said about the program.

Joe Shirley, Line Technician III, told students that the Youth Energy Acedmy influenced his career decisions.

During a four-hour field day at OUC’s Pershing location, students toured the facility’s solar panel arrays, participated in hands-on field demonstrations, observed a lineman rescue operation in the training yard, and listened to a panel discussion on careers in the electric utility industry. Students also heard Joe Shirley, Line Technician III, relate his personal experience with YEA while he was a youth counselor:

“I was a chaperone with a group like this a few years ago,” he told them, “and by being exposed to this program I decided to change my career path from education to lineman.”

Dressed for work on a line crew, Shirley, 35, explained to the roomful of students that he hadn’t seen any African American line techs until he attended YEA. “I realized this was something I could do, and it pays well and comes with good benefits,” he said. “Since I started here my eyes have been opened to other opportunities at OUC.”

OUC’s AABE chapter members organized the field day at Pershing, marking the fifth year Orlando’s municipally owned utility has cosponsored the YEA event with Duke and Siemens.

“The Youth Energy Academy opens their minds to what goes on behind the scenes in our industry,” said OUC AABE committee Chair Corey Johnson, Supervisor of Meter Operations at OUC, “and that makes them aware of opportunities they didn’t know exist.”

Committee Co-Chair Queen Massaline, OUC’s Senior Community Relations Coordinator, said, “We believe this program will help these kids think about working in our industry and motivate them to pursue careers in STEM or other energy-related fields.”