Brian Pfeil wants to generate electricity without causing global warming, while Zach Gamello sees nanotechnology being used to diagnose diseases.
The two high school seniors are among 110 students from across the Capital Region enrolled for half-days in the Early College High School program at TEC-SMART, Hudson Valley Community College’s energy and technology training facility in Malta.
Both had exhibits about ideas they’d helped create on display Tuesday in the TEC-SMART lobby, part of an effort to highlight the program.
“I’ve always been interested in helping in the fight against global warming and doing things with my hands,” said Pfeil, who attends Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School. “What I love about it is it makes you think outside the box and innovate.”
“It’s different from regular high school,” agreed Liam O’Brien of Ballston Spa High School, Pfeil’s partner in a demonstration of concentrated solar energy.
Gamello also said the early college program is different from traditional high school.
“In [high school] physics, we’re just sitting at a desk listening. Here, it’s a lot of hands-on,” said the senior at Columbia High School in East Greenbush.
The opportunities for technology-oriented students like Pfeil and Gamello will increase, thanks to a $200,000 grant to the program from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, announced Tuesday.
The influx of funding will allow the Clean Technologies & Sustainable Industries Early College High School program to expand to include freshmen, said Joseph Dragone, Ballston Spa’s superintendent of schools. He said it could eventually more than double in size, to between 240 and 300 students.
The Ballston Spa Central School District administers the program, which has enrollees from 20 school districts in seven counties. Its 110 students represent more than a fourfold increase since the program was launched with 25 students from Ballston Spa and one other district in 2011.
High-level officials attending the announcement praised the early college program, in which students collaborate with fellow students from other districts to find answers to energy, technology and engineering problems. The students earn college credit for their work while completing high school, but don’t pay college tuition. The grant covers their tuition, as well as curriculum development and equipment costs.
The hope is that the early exposure to technology problem-solving will lead students into college and then science, technology or engineering careers.
“It’s clear the clean energy economy is going to be growing, and when it’s growing, we need people to fill those jobs, people like [the students] in the back of the room,” said Thomas R. Barone, a vice-president at NYSERDA.
State Education Commissioner John King, who attended Tuesday, also praised the program.
“We can do a better job of combining the process of college preparation and career preparation,” he said. “Too often we think of college preparation and career preparation as separate activities, and actually they are integrally linked.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, an engineer and former president of NYSERDA, also praised the effort.
“To me, it’s all about investment. We’re in the midst of a global race, a global race of clean energy, high tech and innovation,” said Tonko, who explained he was inspired as a young man by the space race of the 1960s.