With Earth Day just over the horizon and the heat of summer fast approaching, students from Duke University arrived in Havasu Lake, California to participate in GRID Alternative’s Solar Spring Break. The students, all members of Duke’s Energy Club, planned their spring break months ago, seeking to learn about solar energy through hands-on experience and gain cultural insight from members of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe. They accomplished both of these objectives in addition to leading a $5,000 fundraising drive for GRID IE.
The students began their week learning the basics of installing a solar system. They participated in every aspect of a solar build from constructing rails to securing panels and ultimately running wires to the electrical panel. “I always considered solar to be a distant, complex idea with numerous environmental benefits,” commented Duke Freshman Emilia Chojkiewicz. “However, installing solar as it turns out is very easy and straight forward. Anyone can do it.”
Once the solar systems were operational the Duke team concentrated on absorbing cultural aspects of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe. A hiking trip with Tribal Elder Matt Leivas generated much excitement as the students learned how Matt deciphered ancient petroglyphs, including a map of the Colorado River tributaries. The Duke team also gained knowledge of Chemehuevi arts, language, and cuisine. “I learned so much about the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe,” said Duke Student Shomik Verma. “I heard many interesting stories about the tribe. It was wonderful to hear their perspectives on issues impacting their life.”
Tribal Chairman Charles Wood agreed. “GRID’s Solar Spring Break is a positive step in the right direction. We believe it is important to learn and share our culture, which creates a closer, more informed world,” he explained. “In addition, the solar systems installed by the Duke students plus ones already installed by GRID have had a phenomenal impact in our community. Many of our Tribal Elders are on fixed incomes and in the summer they were paying up to $600 monthly for electric bills. Now they are paying $200 for the entire year.”
GRID Alternatives launched the Solar Spring Break program in 2014 with the goal of providing students a unique experience built around renewable energy. This year teams from ten universities participated in separate events from San Diego to Denver. Duke Freshman Sierra Cleveland found GRID’s Solar Spring Break particularly engaging. “I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better trip,” she revealed. “I learned so much about solar installation and also about the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe. It was a perfect balance between community service and fun.”
If you are a college student and want to participate in an active, engaging spring break next year, visit our solarspringbreak.org website for more information. You can make an environmental impact while helping families benefit from reduced electrical bills. GRID’s Solar Spring Break is a one-of-a-kind experience!