Left to right: Alejandro Moreno, Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE); Lauren Boyd, Director, Geothermal Technologies Office, U.S. Dept. of Energy; Courtney Grosvenor, Chief of Staff for Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy; Christina Stowers, Deputy Communications Director, EERE; Julie McAdams, Associate General Counsel, University of Utah

By: Sarah Buening

This year, the Utah FORGE team conducted two annual contests for elementary, middle and high school students to learn more about geothermal energy in creative ways. One was a geothermal poster contest where elementary students were asked to make posters including artwork and a few short paragraphs explaining an aspect of geothermal energy. The second was a song parody contest where students remade well-known songs with original lyrics about geothermal energy. Both contests aimed to channel learning through art engagement — an effort exemplified by the STEAM movement. While educational systems traditionally prioritize STEM funding and research, participation in the arts yields many emotional, physical and social benefits. By turning STEM into STEAM, we can incorporate creative thinking into STEM teachings. Like seen in the contests, that simple change can offer students a refreshing new way to look at the energy problems around them.

For the younger generations, becoming energy literate is particularly important. The average child born today needs to emit about eight times less carbon dioxide than their grandparents to comply with Paris Climate Agreement goals. As energy needs evolve, today’s young people will witness and become responsible for overseeing drastic changes to our energy portfolio. Any optimized clean energy palette should include geothermal as a viable energy source. Because of these inevitable changes, we aim to prepare young people now with a greater understanding of alternate energy sources. In addition, providing creative outlets effectively helps to relieve eco-anxiety and optimize learning about topics that, as the contests showed, students are receptive to.

Poster Contest

Even at their young age, the students did a remarkable job comparing and contrasting the benefits of one form of energy versus another. They referenced geothermal energy’s benefit of constant availability, since it doesn’t rely on variable availability like wind or solar do. Whitlee from Milford Elementary remarked that, “Geothermal energy works 24/7 even when the sun is not shining and wind isn’t blowing.” The students’ marvel extended to the history and unique uses of the earth’s heat. Delaney at Belknap Elementary reported that cultures like the “Ancient Romans, Chinese and Greeks used [hot spring] water for therapeutic bathing,” as well as for “cleaning, warmth and cooking.” Some researched the ways that other animals have adapted to use geothermal heat for their specie’s growth and evolution, and others studied geothermal applications like using it to heat greenhouses, pasteurize milk or dehydrate food.

After the poster contest concluded, one teacher remarked that they had “never seen the students so engaged for something like this before.” Students sparked interest in geothermal for a number of reasons, with many posters citing that near their home in Beaver County, three geothermal power plants produce enough energy for approximately 66,000 homes. Some of these students have had parents working at the Utah FORGE or other geothermal sites, making it a personal and proximal issue for them.

Song Parody Contest

As song submissions shuffled in, each participant’s spunk and creativity was put on clear display. We at Utah FORGE were happy to see the students enjoying the contest and having fun working together with their groups. Teachers noticed higher levels of engagement from students in this contest as well. This year’s contest winners, students Allie Willden and Alexia Joseph from Beaver High School, parodied the song “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift — including remakes of popular lyrics like “Did you know that the earth is a geothermal battery with vast geothermal resources? And it has enough power that could light up this whole town.” Students remade other songs like “Gorgeous” by Kanye West, with the winning Elk Meadows team transforming “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane into “Somewhere Only Heat Flows.”

The songs were even more enjoyable when performed, but they each demonstrated an attitude that we want to cultivate in today’s young people. That is, to learn about and bolster the solutions that we have available to us. We’re glad to see students embrace learning and fun in the same effort and only hope to foster more of it in the future.