Working with Wilmington's Green Jobs Program
For six weeks over the summer of 2019, 14 high school students from the City of Wilmington Green Jobs program worked with University of Delaware faculty and staff, participating in hands-on outdoor environmental work, learning about environmental issues and exploring career opportunities in the industry.
The Green Jobs Program is coordinated by Martha Narvaez, a policy scientist in UD’s Water Resources Center, and led by the City of Wilmington’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The students, selected from scores of applicants, work 25 hours a week in the program, earning minimum wage while accomplishing projects or learning about the work being performed by the nonprofits that host the students throughout the summer.
“The program is a collaboration among nonprofit, private, government and academic institutions working together to provide opportunities for City of Wilmington youth to explore environmental issues and careers and to work on environmental projects,” said Narvaez. “The program consists of 18 partners from throughout the state and in its ninth year, continues to provide unique in-depth learning opportunities and career development for the 14-participating youth.”
The Delaware Sea Grant (DESG) College Program has been one of the hosts for the Green Jobs program for a few years, but this year DESG involvement expanded to activities in both Wilmington and Lewes.
The Green Jobs students wrapped up their summer with a trip to UD’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes to learn from DESG professionals about green energy, including getting an up-close tour of UD’s 2-megawatt wind turbine, as well as Delaware’s burgeoning oyster aquaculture industry.
The discussion and tour of the turbine were led by David Christopher, DESG’s Marine Education Specialist, and Christopher Petrone, director of DESG’s Marine Advisory Service.
“Obviously, if you’re on this campus, the wind turbine is the biggest thing that you notice,” Petrone said. “So we wanted the students to see it up-close, and give them some information on renewable energy in general and career opportunities in the field.”
Afterward, the students learned about oyster aquaculture and got to work helping DESG build equipment that will form the start of a new aquaculture demonstration project the program plans to implement.
At four stations, the students got hands-on experience building and learning about the gear necessary to launch an oyster farm and to see different aspects of what an oyster farmer is going to have to deal with in Delaware. The gear was provided by Delaware Cultured Seafood.
“We showed them the gear needed to grow everything from tiny seed oysters, the size of grains of pepper, to full grown adult oysters and all the sizes in between,” Petrone said. “At all life stages, oysters have a whole host of predators that are trying to pick them off for a meal, and the gear is designed to prevent predation while fostering growth.”
DESG aquaculture specialist Dennis McIntosh, a faculty member at Delaware State University, helped students assemble oyster bags while explaining their value. David Christopher and Ed Hale, DESG’s fisheries, seafood and aquaculture specialist, led the students in building a floating upweller system (or FLUPSY), which is used to quickly grow out oyster seed while protecting them from predation.
The plan is for DESG to acquire oyster seed and deploy the FLUPSY and other grow-out gear in the UD marine operations harbor to grow oysters to market size. This will allow DESG to have oysters and gear available so that either potential growers or participants in education programs can see how an aquaculture system works and see an oyster’s growth cycle.
“Hopefully, we’ll have the Green Jobs program come back next summer and do some more work with those oysters,” said Petrone.
Students in the program also worked with DESG earlier this summer when Jame McCray, a human-environment interaction specialist with DESG, took them to the Southbridge Community Garden.
The students were able to help weed the garden and learn about what impact community gardens can have on their communities.
They also discussed the urban heat island effect — where an urban area can be substantially warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to the lack of trees combined with dark, impervious surfaces such as roads, buildings, and parking lots — how urban areas are being impacted by climate change, and the flooding that goes on in urban areas, which resonated with the group as Wilmington had recently experienced a flash flood.
Darion Gray, the lead counselor for the Wilmington Green Jobs program and the executive director of the Wilmington Youth Leadership Commission, said that by interacting with some of the volunteers at the garden, the students were able to see the importance of giving back to their community and the importance of living off the land.
In addition, the students learned about healthy eating, were exposed to foods that they may not have seen before, and learned about pollinators.
McCray said that it was a great opportunity to talk with the students about the importance of urban gardens as well as show them the path she took to her career with DESG.
“Our talk gave the students a window into different career pathways, especially as a black woman with a Ph.D. in the sciences,” McCray said. “If you know that something is an option, you might actually take it and doing environmental work doesn’t necessarily have to be a hobby. It is a viable career if you want it. I hope it gave them the idea that there’s not just one way to go about your life. There’s not one path that you have to follow.”
Gray said that this summer, the students travelled from Wilmington to Milford to Rehoboth, among other locations, to gain an understanding of topics ranging from clean water to horticulture to recycling. In the process, they were exposed to experiences not available to them in their hometown.
“I’m big on making sure that the youth can branch out from their everyday experiences that they’ll experience in Wilmington,” said Gray. “We won’t get to see a wind turbine in Wilmington. Now, Wilmington is a great place to be, develop yourself and give back and raise your children but we don’t have any wind turbines and so my hat’s off to Sea Grant for letting the students experience the importance of clean energy. It was a super exciting day and a great experience.”
While Gray said that each student has responded differently to the activities — with clean water being one of the highlights for most of the students — one constant has been their individual desires to see their community improve.
“Everybody is very responsive to the opportunity on what he or she can do to make their community better, beautify his or her community, and beautify the city as well,” said Gray.