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Tribal Energy Program Training Engineers to Bring Renewable Energy Technologies to Tribal Lands

Albuquerque, NM—November 30, 2015.  As Chair of the STC Board of Directors, Sandra Begay-Campbell leads one of the most innovative university technology transfer programs in the nation.  As an experienced engineer and member of the technical staff at Sandia National Labs, she has created and leads a unique internship program for Native American college students that gives them hands-on experience in understanding how renewable energy technologies can transform the lives of Native Americans living on tribal lands.  The graduate and undergraduate students, pursuing degrees in STEM fields and representing 20 tribal affiliations, come each summer to work with Begay-Campbell in the DOE-sponsored Tribal Energy Program.

“When you consider that approximately 18,000 homes on the Navajo Reservation, for example, have no electricity, this is really important work that the students are doing.  The main challenge to electrifying Navajo homes is the price of infrastructure—it can cost up to $50,000 to extend the electrical grid by just one mile, an unrealistic cost for people living below the poverty level.  If you’re going to put in power poles, you’re going to have to go through really hard dirt roads, lot of rocks, maybe go over a mountain, go through a canyon,” she explained.

The Lab’s Indian Energy Program is a DOE-sponsored program promoting tribal energy sufficiency, economic development and employment through the use of renewable energy technologies.  Begay-Campbell educates tribes nationwide on renewable energy technologies, such as solar, wind and biomass, and assists with funding and technical implementation of renewal energy projects.  The other key component of her job is managing the summer student internships for the program.  Internships are awarded to Native American undergraduate and graduate students who come to Sandia to work with the renewable energy staff and tribal staff members on technical projects.

“The Tribal Energy internship program began in 2002 as a brain-storm I had to support my Sandia renewable energy work.  DOE’s Indian Energy Program (IE) supports my effort where I mentor and guide a handful of college students each summer.  The 12-week program is critical to serve the technical assistance requests given the TEP’s small budget.  It’s a balancing act of assignments and support of the students’ learning on-the-job. The interns receive an intensive and hands-on experience in the assessment of renewable energy projects.  We work on current projects directly with tribal contacts.  To date, I’ve mentored 34 college students from 20 different tribes as they work toward careers in the renewable energy field.

“I’m very proud of my interns and hope that this program helps them and other under-represented minorities to advance in STEM fields.  I have been honored and blessed to coach these young people and get them ready for leadership assignments.”

To watch an inspiring video on the students produced by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYNWwiszhZM.

Ms. Begay-Campbell, who is the former executive director of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and the recipient of the Alumni Circle Award from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), was also the featured speaker at SACNAS – The National Diversity in STEM Conference held on October 30, 2015. Watch this video at  https://youtu.be/dwFG4IQ5BG0?list=PLSTYnN-PxG8Zmg2DXSKyb6B71SkLJrzsm.