Closed Circuit

Photos by Leah Wilson

On Feb. 21, a group of around 20 ninth-grade students from John F. Kennedy High School in Denver, Colorado, visited WAPA’s Electric Power Training Center in Golden for a packed day of discussions, demonstrations and hands-on exercises.

The event was organized and facilitated by the center’s staff, led by EPTC Manager Kyle Conroy

This was not the first student visit Conroy led in his time with the EPTC; in fact, he sees these visits as an important service in aid of science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or STEM—education.

“The reason we continue to provide these STEM-related opportunities to middle- and high-school students is because it is exciting to engage with these young minds and hopefully give them some insight into the opportunities in our industry,” he said.

As the day would prove, his hopes came true.

Relaying knowledge

Conroy has 39 years of industry experience; he started his career as a lineman and has spent around 15 of those years with WAPA. He became EPTC manager in 2017.

With so much knowledge and experience to share, Conroy made sure his demonstrations would be engaging to a young audience. He activated a traveling-arc device informally known as a Jacob’s ladder and a Van de Graaff generator—two devices the students had likely already seen in science-fiction films—to show them just a few of the ways to observe and understand electricity.

He also used an impressive, functional cutaway model of a hydroelectric powerplant to demonstrate how that electricity can be produced.

Conroy discussed many things in his overview, including a brief history of the power marketing administrations, the introduction of hydroelectric power in the West in the early 1900s, the purpose of the Department of Energy and, of course, WAPA’s role in transmitting clean, affordable, reliable hydroelectric power to more than 40 million Americans.

He also taught the students about a number of considerations when it comes to generating, transmitting and using power. He discussed everything from the difference between AC and DC to why some materials—such as copper—are better conductors than others.

Many in the class were surprised to learn just how much happens behind the simple act of turning on the lights or plugging in their phones for charging.

Two students in particular found the lesson intriguing.

Jackseny Roldan, who has an interest in marine biology, didn’t think electricity was as complicated as it is. “Now I’m going to be thinking about how much is involved when it comes to using the computer or TV,” she said. She found the concept of power transmission especially fascinating.

Alexandra Ronquillo, who plans to study medicine and law, surprisingly had the opposite reaction, though she was no less intrigued. “It was actually simpler than I expected,” she said. This is because she was already taking a structural view of energy distribution. “I had an idea of the ways electricity got from a powerplant to a house. I didn’t know the specifics, but now I know it’s pretty simple and makes a lot of sense.”

Roldan and Ronquillo enjoyed the lesson so much they volunteered to be the first students to simulate transmitting energy and responding to problems using the EPTC’s Miniature Power System.

Learning by doing

The centerpiece of the visit was the simulation exercises on the MPS. Conroy and Electrical Engineer Joseph Liberatore gave the students an extensive tour of the system and explained how it uses actual power on a small scale to simulate the management of the real-life grid. They also previewed a few upgrades to the MPS that will be making their official debut later in the year.

After the introduction to the MPS, Conroy invited students to participate in a series of simulated grid issues and disruptions.

One of the primary things Conroy communicated during the morning’s presentations was the importance of constant communication. “Communication saves lives,” he emphasized, and this was a precept the students definitely put into practice during the simulations; even those who were not actively participating at the time called advice and suggestions to their friends.

“It was awesome to see many of the children interested in what we do here at the EPTC and WAPA,” said Administrative Analyst Leah Wilson, who works under the Wyandotte Services contract. Wilson noted that this particular group was among the most engaged she had seen. “I think that showed they were interested in all aspects of the EPTC and that they are starting to think about their future endeavors. They were engaged and excited to take on the MPS demos and learn more about electricity.”

One of the most engaged students was Christian Clement, who was particularly interested in how system operators keep the power flowing. “It looks intimidating and complicated,” he said, “but now that it was explained, I get it.”

An aptitude for power delivery runs in Clement’s family; his father and grandfather were both linemen. Clement even joined his father on several trips to watch him work. For this particular student, it was an opportunity to see what an actual career in the industry might be like.

“Ever since I was little I wanted to be an electrical engineer,” Clement said. “I’m glad I got to come.”

He was far from the only one who ended the day considering career opportunities.

“Usually, the students who attend solely ask the instructors about their jobs, how much they make, what they do,” said Wilson, “but some were even asking me specifically about my job as an administrative analyst here at the EPTC. I think it’s important to host events like these because it shows future generations the vast possibilities and job opportunities in our industry.”

Conroy handed out certificates to the students, a reminder of the day’s activities and the opportunities they represent.

“For me, it’s more than just those that might be college bound,” said Conroy. “It’s about including career opportunities in the crafts, operations and other support personnel necessary for an electrical utility to operate.”

Electric Power Training Center Manager Kyle Conroy explains the Miniature Power System ahead of hands-on exercises.

Electric Power Training Center Manager Kyle Conroy explains the Miniature Power System ahead of hands-on exercises.

A student reaches out to touch the Miniature Power System
A small group of male students touch the Miniature Power System

Students participated in a series of simulated grid issues and disruptions on the Miniature Power System.

Students examine a projected image of the power system's workings

Students who were not actively participating in the simulation stayed engaged by observing and monitoring the progress made by their peers.

Last modified on March 5th, 2024