Let Them Grow! Agrivoltaics Education: Increasing STEM Interest Among Underrepresented Youth

24 Oct 2023

Mayra Ramos Angress, a DoD STEM Ambassador, Leverages Interdisciplinary Teaching Tools

STEM education is important for preparing our children for the workforce of the future. It's no secret that underrepresented youth, including girls and children of color, often face barriers quality STEM education. Agrivoltaics education is one way to help overcome barriers and increase interest in STEM among underrepresented youth.

Let Them Grow! Agrivoltaics Education: Increasing STEM Interest Among Underrepresented Youth

The following was written by Mayra Ramos Angress, a middle school math, science, and engineering teacher, and a DoD STEM Ambassador. DoD STEM Ambassadors work with the Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) to advance STEM outreach for students who are underrepresented in STEM or military connected. Angress was selected by ASU MLFTC, a DSEC Partner, as its DoD STEM ambassador for the 2022-2023 school year.

Agrivoltaics is fusion between solar energy and agriculture that improves crop yield and reduces water use. A microenvironment is created when solar panels are placed above growing crops, increasing the daily grow period of plants and, in turn, increasing crop yield. This system benefits farmers and the environment by providing clean energy! Agrivoltaics can be used as a hands-on teaching tool covering several STEM disciplines.

Agrivoltaics offers a unique opportunity for underrepresented youth to learn in a more engaging and accessible way. When students have full autonomy of an agrivoltaic garden, they think, build, and cultivate their ideas with tangible outcomes. Children can learn the basics of engineering by designing framing systems for solar panels and water irrigation systems, or by learning about electrical circuitry used to power gardens. They can also learn about biology by studying plant growth and observing how solar panels impact plant health. Mathematics is taught by gathering statistics and conducting data analysis of environmental conditions and crop yields. Computer programming is used while monitoring the data and designing graphs for optimal growth. Geographic and environmental education can be incorporated by looking at water tables and their importance in cultivation.

Agrivoltaics can also help bridge the gender gap in STEM education. Providing young girls with meaningful and accessible STEM education can be done through agrivoltaics, which is an interdisciplinary field. Traditionally, agriculture has been seen as a male-dominated field with limited opportunities for women and girls to participate. Agrivoltaics can be used to attract girls to STEM, as it has a strong emphasis on sustainability, interconnectedness, and innovation. This type of curriculum can help girls be more successful in later STEM education and careers. Agrivoltaics provides a unique opportunity for students to walk in the shoes of an engineer, scientist, or even a plant biologist, giving them a practical and experiential education in STEM.

Agrivoltaics is becoming an increasingly important interdisciplinary field, especially as we work toward creating more sustainable energy and agricultural systems. However, it is not merely a technological breakthrough; agrivoltaics can be an engaging and accessible tool for teaching STEM subjects to unrepresented youth. By incorporating agrivoltaics into classroom curricula and providing hands-on experiences, we can create a more inclusive and prosperous future where both the environment and individuals are thriving.

About DoD STEM and Defense STEM Education Consortium

Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) is a collaborative partnership of STEM-focused organizations dedicated to addressing and prioritizing our nation's STEM talent. DSEC aims to broaden STEM literacy and develop a diverse and agile workforce with the technical excellence to defend our nation. Through strategic investment in STEM education and outreach activities, the effort will provide students with more exposure to educational and career opportunities as well as DoD research. DSEC is led on behalf of DoD STEM by RTI International.

About Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College administers Arizona State University's undergraduate and graduate programs in education. For the consortium, ASU MLFTC delivers culturally responsive curriculum in cybersecurity and information technology to young women in underserved communities and prepares STEM educators through professional learning on STEM culturally relevant pedagogy.