Promoting Sustainable Energy for Kids

College of Integrated Science and Engineering

By: Daniel Vieth

Though we sometimes forget it, creativity and learning can and should go hand in hand. This simple idea is what drives the KidWind Challenges, a national engineering and design competition that encourages middle and high school students to learn about sustainable energy in a way that is fun and educational. These challenges have become a big deal in Virginia, thanks in large part to JMU’s Center for Wind Energy, who has hosted KidWind challenges for the past three years. With the help of the generous donations from Dominion Virginia Power and a number of student volunteers, JMU will host the KidWind Eastern Finals later this year.

KidWind is a Minnesota company that makes hands-on educational equipment for classrooms to teach wind and solar energy. Since KidWind hosted their first challenge back in 2009, these competitions have grown in popularity and spread across the nation. Though the events in each state may vary, the basic premise is for small teams of middle and high school students to learn about sustainable energy and have fun while engaging in science and technology.  “It’s very creative, and it’s definitely working through the engineering design process,” explained Remy Pangle, Associate Director and Education & Outreach Coordinator for JMU’s Center for Wind Energy. Other than the stock electrical generator given to each team, the students have to build and design their own wind turbines from scratch that are then evaluated by a team of judges at their local competition. They’re judged on how their turbine works, and asked to explain why wind energy is important, why we build turbines, and how it helps our environment,” Pangle added. 

JMU’s Center for Wind Energy has been involved with KidWind for the past three years, helping host a competition in 2012 at the science museum in Richmond, a competition in 2013 at Thomas Harrison Middle School in Harrisonburg, and qualifying rounds in Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia in 2014. “The Center for Wind Energy brings all this renewable energy education to the classroom, so it was just a natural flow to work with the KidWind Challenge once their structure was finalized,” said Pangle.

This year, the Center for Wind Energy will be putting together qualifying challenges at four public Virginia universities and hosting KidWind’s Eastern Finals at JMU on April 25th. “These events are really the culmination of the year. These students have spent all year learning about wind energy, but this gives them that application, the reason why they’re learning all this,” said Pangle. “I think that this challenge at JMU is just a great way to bring young learners on campus, show them how awesome JMU is, and for us to show what the Center for Wind Energy can do for students and teachers.”

Along with KidWind, JMU has partnered with a number of other organizations to help put these challenges together. This includes Wind For Schools, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, and this year’s sole sponsor Dominion Power, who donated $20,000 to fund the five competitions at Virginia’s universities. “Unlike similar competitions where teams pay a ton of money to register, KidWind only costs $10 to register, so the KidWind Challenges have to run on sponsors in every state,” Pangle explained. “Dominion Power was one that I reached out to, and they were very excited and gave us a substantial amount!”

More than the funds to put the events together, these challenges couldn’t happen without the help of the volunteers and judges who give their time. For this reason, the Center for Wind Energy has created an interdisciplinary course this spring semester for students to earn credit while helping put together the Eastern Finals this year. “We were hoping to get students from disciplines like engineering, ISAT, education, hospitality, psychology, and art to join the class and help plan activities, volunteer at the events, and critique it so it can be better for next year,” explained Pangle. “This class is going to come up with some age-appropriate, interesting, and educational things for the students to do here at JMU apart from the challenges.”

KidWind Challenges are a wonderful way for students to have fun while learning about science, technology, and sustainable energy outside of the classroom. By hosting these events, JMU and the Center for Wind Energy also gain the opportunity to engage with the community. 

"KidWind Challenges are very much about promoting education rather than competition." -Remy PangleWe want it to be exciting and get kids thinking and designing,” said Pangle. “If they win, that’s great, but if they don’t win they’ll still walk away thinking they had fun and learned something, and that’s what really matters.”

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Published: Monday, February 2, 2015

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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