Energizing students

Published 1:04 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Approximately a dozen students of Cumberland County High School gathered on an early Wednesday morning to continue a series of meetings that began earlier in the year with representatives of Dominion Energy.

Samantha Q. Moore, communications specialist with Dominion Energy, said Cumberland County High School is one of four schools in Virginia involved with the “Get Into Energy” Innovation Challenge, in which schools compete to develop ideas to solve real-world, energy related issues; and only one of two schools working directly with Dominion Energy.

Moore said the students are working with ideas, corresponding with mentors and their classmates to conduct research and explore ways to modernize and develop renewable energy sources for Virginia.

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“They are past the research point,” Moore said March 20, as students started to discuss their projects. “They are now making it real.”

Moore said an aspect of the competition is for students to focus on Self Healing Grids.

“The Self Healing Grid is a system comprised of sensors, automated controls, and advanced software that utilizes real-time data to detect and isolate issues and reconfigure the distribution network to minimize the customers impacted,” Moore said. “For example, right now, a control center would be able to see where the issue is, but we have to send an actual technician out to the site to actually find out which part has gone bad. This can take a lot of time depending on where the outage is and how complex the fix is. A self-healing grid would make it easier to identify the failure and even re-route power to speed up restoration.”

Dominion representative Matt Kellam, who is one of the mentors working with Cumberland students, said the program has the potential to show students the options they have in the energy field as careers.

Kellam said Gov. Ralph Northam recently signed a house and senate bill that would increase students’ opportunity to learn more about energy-related career opportunities. Senate Bill 1348 and House Bill 2008 directed the Virginia Department of Education to develop an energy career cluster, incorporating education about careers in the energy industry for students.

Cumberland High School Career and Technical Education Instructor David Sullivan, who also coaches the school division’s robotics program, said Dr. Chip Jones initially got the school involved with the challenge through his work with the Virginia Energy Workforce Development Consortium.

Sullivan said the Cumberland students are working in two groups and are competing against each other. He said he hopes Cumberland wins first and second place.

Sullivan said he and the students were initially nervous about the program, not being sure what to expect. However, he said he and the students were more than pleasantly surprised by the program.

“We’re super excited about it,” Sullivan said.

“We’re already exposing (the students) to the corporate workforce,” Sullivan said.

Brandon White, a prospective engineer and senior, said his robotics program teacher David Sullivan approached him about being involved with the program as a student leader. White is collaborating with peers to research and pull the information they’ve learned together for a “Shark Tank”-style presentation that will take place at the Science Museum of Virginia in April.