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Constance Alexander: Strategies to improving education should include value of lifelong learners

Good thing Noah Davis graduated from University of Kentucky in 1992, when majoring in English and minoring in Philosophy was not considered a career catastrophe. With a combined SAT score of 1380, Noah could have opted for studies in math and science but — like most college-age kids then and now – he had no clear idea what he wanted his future to be.

His intellectual curiosity led him toward the Liberal Arts, and varied interests resulted in a string of interesting jobs, including a summer stint as a reporter on a newspaper in Nantucket. After graduation, he followed his sense of adventure to work as a whitewater raft guide, a high-altitude snowmobile guide, and a snowboard patroller in Colorado. Fascination with technology earned him a gig as a writer of video game manuals in California.

When he married an Australian woman, the couple relocated to Melbourne, where Noah earned secondary school teaching certification. They moved to an idyllic rural region where he taught English, Outdoor Education and Art, and grappled with severe drought and massive bushfires, the result of accelerated climate change. Now with two kids in tow, the Davis family and others in the devastated region had to flee repeatedly to escape smoke and fire.

Soon it became evident to Noah that teaching potential solutions to climate change took priority over all other subjects. As a result, they moved to Colorado, where he managed the Solar in the Schools program for Solar Energy International, and ran a variety of K-12 renewable energy education programs and teacher trainings.

In 2012, Davis’ entrepreneurial spirit led him to found Energetics Education, a non-profit focused on inspiring young people to get involved in improving the world’s energy systems. The first challenge was finding ways to capture teens’ attention.

“I realized we needed something to compete with kids’ smartphones and video games and social media, so I devised a crazy-fast, solar-powered radio-controlled car race,” he said.

Thus, Solar Rollers was born. High school teams design, hand-build, and race solar-powered, remote control cars. Hands-on, they apply concepts of electrical and mechanical engineering, photovoltaics, energy storage, and energy efficiency, while practicing teamwork and cultivating self-confidence, ingenuity, and community, as they compete against other teams.

Recently, for the third year in a row, teams from Colorado high schools competed in an hour-long race at the Denver Museum of Nature and Sciences, with Tesla Motors on hand displaying a Model X electric vehicle. As the vision continues to take shape, Solar Rollers will have opportunities to compete on national and even international levels.

Now imagine if Noah Davis were an undergraduate at any public university in Kentucky today. With the emphasis of higher education shifting toward job training, Gov. Matt Bevin decreed, “There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors. There just will. All the people in the world that want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayer.”

Not long after that proclamation, Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton told the editorial staff of the Eastern Kentucky University student newspaper that colleges and students should focus on programs that produce jobs.

“I would not be studying history, unless, you have a job lined up,” she declared in an article posted on the website of EKU’s newspaper.

If the Bevin administration gets its way, colleges and universities would receive state tax dollars based on criteria such as graduation rates of certain degree programs. “Useful” disciplines, like engineering and health care-related fields would top the list.

Selecting a “useful” major and sticking with it until graduation can be a sign of commitment to a course of study, or just an indication of lethargy, a willingness to follow the crowd. Education is a process that lasts a lifetime, challenging individuals to demonstrate ambition, leadership, and motivation that helps them stay ahead of trends and industry innovation.

Strategies to improve education should acknowledge the value of lifelong learners like my stepson, Noah Davis, and others. After all, aren’t they the kind of workers and leaders we need now and in the future?

More information on Energetics Ed is available at www.solarrollers.org.


Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommuications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit

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