Cal students shine as solar panel interns

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From left to right, students Daniel Fix, Saundarya Mehra, Alyssa Freels, and Tim Farley stand in front of the new solar panels in the back parking lot. Photo by Samantha Cookson

Courtney Carlson

Staff Writer

SunPower, an international solar panel corporation, offered four Cal High students summer internships as an opportunity to share information about the company’s trade and encourage students to do the same.

The whole student population took note last year as workers began deconstruction on Cal’s parking lot, which was the first step in a district-wide project to install solar panel carports in the parking lots at several area schools.

Students at all four high schools in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District received intership opportunities.

SunPower, which specializes in the installation of solar technology, took four students from each high school and gave them internships with the company’s solar institute in Richmond.

Junior Alyssa Freels and Daniel Fix got involved with the program through their sophomore Engineering Academy, while senior Tim Farley was given the opportunity through his junior Engineering Academy.

Senior Saundarya Mehra was introduced to the  program by leadership teacher Eileen Mantz.

“We wanted committed, strong students,” said U.S. History teacher Scott Hodges, who previously taught the Engineering Academy and helped select the recipients of the internships.

Hodges was picked by the district to be the on-site coordinator for the two-week period between July 25 and Aug. 5 in which students were involved.

He made sure students attended work and networked between the school district and SunPower.

“We worked with a representative from SunPower for 10 days,” said Alyssa. “In the first week we were taught all about solar panels, and in the second week we made presentations about what we learned.”

The 16 high school students learned everything about solar panels, from the costs and the process of manufacturing to designing systems and environmental and economic impacts of solar technology.

“We even got hands-on training with the technology,” said Tim. “Then we were able to show off our hard work to SunPower itself in a presentation that we made.”

Their second week was spent visiting Flextronics, the solar plant in Richmond, and the school parking lots.

“The internship was a great opportunity,” said Daniel. “We learned everything there is to know about solar, like what goes into a school district project, and talked to different employees of SunPower.”

Besides earning $1,000, the students gained indelible skills and unforgettable experiences. They worked hard, not only learning about the solar panels, but also in creating a presentation, turning them from students into teachers.

On their final day, the interns presented to SunPower founders and managers.

“It really cultivated their interest in solar systems,” Hodges said.

The Cal students extended their experience by presenting at the freshman orientation and the teaching staff before the start of school. They may present to the school board, too.

“This experience was the most rewarding thing of my summer,” said Alyssa. “I’m no longer afraid to talk in front of people. Every ounce of stage fright is gone.”