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By Jenifer VanAlstein, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

This October, the Kern County Hispanic Chamber will host 50 new students in the Energy and Agriculture Academy, presented by Chevron, Kern Energy Foundation, and Bakersfield College, with the support of California Resources Corporation and Aera Energy. This award-winning program introduces students to local professionals, career opportunities, and a wide array of features that energy and agriculture have to offer in the Central Valley and beyond. Eligible students are high school juniors and seniors and students enrolled at Bakersfield College, Taft College, CSU Bakersfield, and CSU Fresno who are interested in the energy and agriculture sectors.

During the seven-week course, students will hear from industry professionals and receive first-hand knowledge from those who work in these fields. We feel this brings a better understanding to students, who often only receive very biased information. Students also get to meet with local elected officials to discuss political and regulatory topics. In addition, students receive financial scholarships, internship and leadership opportunities, volunteer opportunities, and act as student ambassadors for the Kern County Hispanic Chamber.

In 2020, we had to pivot to a virtual academy. While this was not ideal, it did allow the students to gain access to parts of the industry we may not have been able to see first-hand. We were able to have professional video tours done for our students. One video that was a huge success was of Rio Bravo Farms, where students were able to follow the product from seed to table. This year’s academy will also be done via Zoom. We will have a virtual tour of an oil field and (hopefully) a solar or wind farm. The benefit of the video tours is that students gain access to parts of the operation that are either restricted to guests or are not available because of time restraints. 

Our first week will include a panel of experts to discuss the “Myth Busters.” We will discuss hydraulic fracturing, environmental impacts, and beneficial reuse of water. Our second week, we bring in elected officials and government affairs professionals to discuss policy and politics and the importance of being present as decisions are being made. We then spend a couple of weeks with professionals from the industries of oil, agriculture, renewable energy, biofuel, and the utility companies. Most companies that we contact provide an engineer or scientist, as many of the students are the STEM programs. Students always love hearing from the small farmers or small producers, representing the entrepreneurs in industry. And we wrap up the academy with HR professionals who give the students tips on how to get jobs or internships at their company. 

I am very passionate about this Academy, not just because I help the KCHCC put it on, but because I thrive from seeing the “aha” moments from the students who participate. Many are hearing the facts and information for the first time, after hearing negative propaganda about both industries. Let’s face it, students are taught incredibly biased information that paints oil and ag in a horrible light. When they realize, “oh, farmers are really the best stewards of the land and the environment and they don’t just waste water;” or “oh, oil companies aren’t in business to dump oil all over the ground, but actually spend millions of dollars to produce the cleanest energy in the world,” it brings me a great deal of satisfaction. I sit on so many boards where we have this constant struggle of getting the word out about how amazing and vital energy and ag are to not just Kern County but to California. And this program is the perfect way to get that word out!

I encourage every company in the Energy and Agriculture industries to get involved in this program. Some ways you can get involved are:

Sponsor the Academy 

Provide professionals from your company to speak to the students

Provide a virtual tour of your facility

Hire an intern through our program

At the end of the course, students receive a graduation gift. This includes swag from sponsors, certificates from elected officials, and a sizable scholarship. The scholarships are dependent upon the sponsorships but are paid directly to the students. This allows them to use the funds for books, computers, etc.

If your company is interested in getting involved, contact Jay Tamsi at JTamsi@KCHCC.org or me, Jenifer VanAlstein, at JPitcherConsulting@gmail.com. If you know a student who is interested in the Academy for 2022, information can be found at KCHCC.org.