A former Seattle University professor and lifelong student, Kim Taylor is passionate about teaching real life skills and engaging her students. Earlier this year, her 8th grade Advanced Engineering class at Sacajawea Middle School partnered with the Spokane Bomb Squad to improve the grip on their robot’s claw. Impressed with the results, the Squad shared the design with fellow bomb squads across the country. Designing a slide for Joya Child & Family Development and miniature props for a local chipmunk photographer have also been part of lesson plans.
This summer, Kim brought her skills to Avista’s Energy Pathways program. Now in its second year, Energy Pathways is part of Governor Inslee’s Career Connect initiative. Open to rising high school juniors and seniors, the four week course is designed to expose youth to careers in the utility industry - and generate a pipeline of potential future employees.
Students learn about utility history and electric and natural gas theory. They walk through the energy generation process, visit Avista’s hydroelectric dams and thermal plants, learn about transmission and distribution infrastructure and participate in multiple job shadows.
Jeremy Gall, Craft Training and Development Manager, helped in the creation of Energy Pathways and couldn’t be happier with the direction it’s taken. “This isn’t about sitting behind a desk and listening to someone tell you how great utility jobs can be,” Gall said. “It’s about bringing career pathways in energy to life. Kim treats this class as a workplace and has these kids discovering interests they never knew they had."
The program has students digging ditches to lay gas lines, hanging transformers and installing meter boxes. It also has them practicing self-reflection, teamwork and public speaking. “This is about real life mentoring, setting goals and having crucial conversations,” Kim said. “I talk to the kids about taking healthy risks – not being afraid to try something new. They’re learning that you can’t judge a career until you’ve stood in it."
Students led community leaders from Greater Spokane Incorporated, Exotic Metals, KSPS broadcasting and the governor’s office on a site visit of Avista’s Jack Stewart Training Center, detailing the various projects that were part of the program.
Kim says, "Application makes lessons understandable and long-lasting. That’s what’s so special about this program."
At the program’s start, the 16 students weren’t sure about careers in energy. By week three, most were excited about the possible career paths – many that they previously had no idea existed – including a job that carries the duty of rappelling down the face of a dam.
“These students are from all walks of life – different schools and backgrounds,” said Kim. “They wouldn’t have spoken to each other. Now they have a private Snapchat group and are linked for life.” And that’s what Energy Pathways is all about: stepping out of comfort zones to discover something new, while developing a strong and diverse workforce of the future.