High-schoolers explore green careers at campus fair

Hundreds of eco-minded local high-school students flocked to UC Berkeley Friday to explore college and career opportunities in the clean-tech economy of tomorrow as the campus hosted a green-collar workforce development fair.

The East Bay Green Corridor’s third annual Green Education and Career Exploration Fair offered high-schoolers the opportunity to learn more about the ever-growing array of educational and professional options open to them after high school from public and private sector organizations involved in shaping the green economy.

East Bay Green Corridor career fair - Amyris

Berkeley startup Amyris piqued students' curiosity about the bioengineering of pharmaceuticals and biofuels.

Berkeley biotech startup Amyris, Pacific Gas & Electric and AC Transit joined corporate big-hitters Bayer, Chevron and Siemens among the nearly 50 industry, education, nonprofit and government organizations represented at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building.

“Elements of sustainability are slowly being integrated into all aspects of everyday life,” said environmental consultant Richard Grassetti. “Hopefully, talking to people in industry will grab students’ attention and inspire them as they think about their future careers.”

For their part, the students — all from specialized high-school green academies in Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, Oakland and San Lorenzo — eagerly navigated the grid of informational booths, quizzing representatives about the evolving green-collar jobs sector and career opportunities in traditional and emerging industries, from construction and transportation to renewable energy and bioengineering.

Green-career academies focus on interdisciplinary curricula in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, emphasizing experiential-learning models that apply core academic and practical skills in real-world settings connected to the green economy.

“I wanted to find out more about college options that focus on the environment and also allow me to use my skills in math and science,” said 17-year-old Rosemary Davies, a senior in sustainability, ecology and environmental design at Berkeley High’s green academy. “I just wish I’d had more time to explore.”

East Bay Green Corridor career fair - Space Sciences Lab

Karin Hauck, of Berkeley's Space Sciences Lab, captured students' attention with a thermal-imaging demonstration.

UC Berkeley maintained a strong presence at the fair with representatives on hand from the Space Sciences Lab, the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, the Office of Sustainability and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Later, several high-school groups braved the heavy afternoon rains to enjoy guided tours of the campus.

“Beyond opening students up to the growing range of opportunities in the green sector, the fair offers students an opportunity to practice talking to potential employers,” said Assistant Dean Kimberly Johnson, who manned a booth for the College of Natural Resources.

Community nonprofits showcased advocacy efforts in the areas of environmental justice and sustainability, offering students pointers about how to get involved and highlighting potential career pathways.

A host of local community colleges and workforce-training organizations engaged students interested in post-high-school education options with advice on a myriad of sustainability-related programs of study and green-collar training certifications.

“For those who don’t want to pursue a four-year college degree, there many development alternatives that provide the technical and practical qualifications needed for many of the jobs that are out there,” said Bill Gravelle, director of the College of Alameda’s transportation and logistics academic support program.

East Bay Green Corridor career fair - Siemens

Siemens was one of several corporate heavy-hitters showcasing green career pathways in established industries.

As the speed-dating career exploration wound down, the peer-to-peer chattering of participants suggested most students would come away with heads filled with insights as valuable as the handfuls of materials they carried home.

“We wanted our students to learn about green sectors, technologies and companies that they might not have thought about before and I was impressed by the number and variety of organizations at the fair,” said Dale Fiess, a teacher at Skyline High School’s green academy.

Launched in 2007, the East Bay Green Corridor — a collaborative effort involving UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, California State University East Bay, Peralta Community Colleges and eight cities, including Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Richmond — aims to establish the East Bay as an epicenter of clean-technology innovation and enterprise.