It’s a warm spring day in Riverside. Puffy white clouds drift through azure skies. Students clad in yellow harnesses and white hard hats are clambering around as they heave solar panels into place atop the roof of a suburban home. They’re frenetic and busy and looking rather like ants scrambling over a picnic basket.
On the ground their compatriots stare with wide eyes at German Coreas as he barks safety rules at them. He’s a jolly fellow, but the rules are serious and he’s serving them straight up: ‘You must wear a hard hat at all times. You must remain tethered in at all times.’ The students are 20-plus feet up on a steep tiled roof, after all. Can’t have them tumbling down humpty-dumpty style.
This is spring for Cal Poly Pomona’s GRID team.
This GRID team is a group of students – mostly majoring in electrical and computer engineering technology – who volunteer their time, and fundraise dollars, to bring solar panels to families in need. The panels can reduce electric bills by as much as 90 percent – a lifeline for households where money is tight. This spring break, the students helped a family in Riverside and another in Rialto.
Cynthia “Cindy” Corrales, workforce & volunteer manager for GRID Alternatives (the non-profit that coordinates and trains volunteer teams to install solar for families in need) says the project gives students valuable experiences they can’t get in a classroom.
“They’re learning to communicate with each other in a work environment – team building – and also applying to theoretical knowledge they got in the classroom,” says Corrales, herself a 2010 graduate of Cal Poly Pomona. “They’re getting to see it, touch it, build it, and the ultimate goal is that the system works at the end! It follows Cal Poly Pomona’s true motto of ‘learn by doing’ in a very unique, hands-on way.”
Jessica Sandres, a fourth-year ECET student who helped organize and lead this year’s effort, says she “learned a lot” about the technical aspects of installing solar panels and the organizational side of such an effort this year, which was her first with GRID.
“I was sending out the emails when fees are due, what you’re supposed to do next,” she says. “I had to coordinate who was going to go where and who was going to carpool.”
“I ran into some difficulties sometimes when people wouldn’t call me back and I would find them in their classroom and be like, ‘Are you going to reply to me?’” she says with a laugh.
The homeowners, naturally, were grateful for the students’ efforts.
“Now we can use our air conditioner,” says Marisela Gomez, who, along with the rest of her family, will now have respite from the giant toaster oven that is an Inland Empire summer. “We are using more energy, but we are saving.”
To learn more about GRID Alternatives and how to get involved visit www.gridalternatives.org.