What: Energy Partners Fund's annual Awards for Education
When: Monday, Oct. 7, 2013
Where: Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria
The classy and picturesque Presqu’ile Winery in south Santa Maria served as the venue for Monday night's annual grant awards ceremony for the Energy Partners Fund.
Public schools, teachers and nonprofit organizations received grant checks to help fund a variety of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) projects from students in kindergarten through high school, from Carpinteria to Guadalupe.
Energy companies such as Exxon Mobil, Santa Maria Energy, Freeport-McMoRan, Venoco Inc. and 23 other partners contributed more than $500,000 to the Energy Partners Fund, which has helped engage more than 38,000 students per year in innovative, hands-on learning in the STEM fields.
The nonprofit organization was founded in 2008.
The ceremony’s venue, Presqu’ile Winery, also has links to the energy industry. Four generations of the winery’s family have partnered in farming, forestry, oil and gas, and conservation.
Presqu'ile (press-KEEL), Creole for "almost an island," was a family gathering place. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ended an era. The new winery's name honors the family’s beloved place. Their Santa Ynez wine tasting room closed, and the state-of-the art winery and tasting room opened in Santa Maria opened in June by family members. A winery staffer said, “We just didn’t have enough wine for both locations!”
Presqu’ile’s adjacent outdoor amphitheater was the setting for the awards presentation. Grateful teachers and nonprofit educators walked to the outdoor stage to accept their check envelopes. Major funders recognized several award recipients at a time. Grantee programs included iPads for kindergartners to robotics projects for high-schoolers. There was a bit of jostling between the partner companies — others encouraged the teachers present to inspire their students to become petroleum engineers, others advocated for careers in mechanical engineering.
An event special speaker was Michael Nevels, a retired engineer and an educator specializing in STEM. His recent career change was due to a need fulfill a personal desire and a societal need, to inspire more students to pursue STEM.
He has 30 years of engineering and project management experience and most recently resided in Houston, Texas. Along with STEM, his interests include nanoscale phenomena, technology tools and applications. He is director of the Mobile Oilfield Learning Unit, a traveling exhibit that features six self-contained, kiosk-style learning stations. The stations feature curriculum-based, hands-on activities about energy, and the technologies and sciences involved.
“Can you hear me?” Nevels asked the audience. “This is how I talk to kids in the classroom. No mike and up close. I ask the students, did you know that the fastest plane in the 1960s was built without the aid of a computer? Students still need to know the basics.
"I played football at my university in Michigan. They wanted me to take classes in basket weaving to keep up my grade point average. I rejected this. I pursued a major in chemical engineering so that I would have a career after football. Now I tell kids in my classrooms that the chance of becoming a professional football player (which a lot of kids say that they want to do when they ‘grow up’) is one in millions — more than the chance of getting killed by lightening. Pursuing a college major in math, engineering, science or technology has much better odds of landing a good job and a lifetime of good income.”
Grant presenter Daymond Rice from Exxon/Mobil said, “Along with the other partners, we support the economic benefits that our industry provides, as well as safety, in the communities where we work. We are strong supporters of STEM in our schools and the potential that it has to benefit our youth.”
Educational organizations helped with grants included the Santa Maria Bonita School District, the Orcutt Union School District and the Guadalupe School District; Arellanes Elementary School, Arellanes Junior High School, Ida Redmond Taylor Elementary School, Ontiveros Elementary School, Pioneer Valley High School, Rice Elementary School, Lakeview Junior High School and Tommie Kunst Junior High School in Santa Maria; Brandon Elementary School and El Camino Elementary School in Goleta; Carpinteria Family School; La Purisima Concepcion School and Lakeview Junior High in Orcutt; Santa Maria Public Library’s Guadalupe Branch; St. Mary of the Assumption School; Orcutt Academy; and Santa Maria Boys & Girls Club-Los Alamos.