Student videos wanted to spread word on smart energy

Sarah Ware, adjunct professor at Benedictine University in Lisle, normally has students do volunteer work in the community to fulfill the experiential learning component of the humanities course she teaches. But this winter, she's encouraging them to take on a very different kind of project.

She's asking the students to break into teams and create videos about smart energy use in languages other than English.

The students will have an opportunity to win up to a $1,000 cash prize and the videos will be shown to non-English speaking community groups in DuPage County as part of a new outreach by SCARCE to educate people about energy efficiency and conservation.

"We're very excited about this project," said Kay McKeen, executive director of SCARCE, who founded the School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education organization 27 years ago. "We're eager to reach out to as many people as possible."

To do that, SCARCE is seeking 20 teams of high school and college students to create videos in some of the more than 60 languages spoken in DuPage County, including American Sign Language.

Teams should consist of three to five students, who will be encouraged to use their creativity. The students will be taught about smart energy and videography in workshops conducted by SCARCE, use video equipment that later will be donated to their schools, and participate in a Focus on Energy film festival on Sunday, April 23.

McKeen said it's all possible thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation, with SCARCE being the first organization to receive a grant for this type of project. The grant has been used to purchase the video equipment and hire a professional videographer to teach the students.

Ware said she sees it as a great opportunity for students and hopes to have four or five teams sign up from her class.

"They're learning something completely new," she said. "They can get training in smart energy and they can get training in videography."

The first workshop for teams who have signed up will be Saturday, Jan. 28, at Rev3 Innovation Center, 1120 Diehl Road, Naperville. A second workshop will be scheduled at a later date. Teams must attend one workshop.

The videos will be shown at the film festival on April 23 at Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton, where $1,000 cash prizes will be awarded to the top video in three categories: high school, college and people's choice.

"If we just break through to reach the right high school kids, this could make a big difference," McKeen said.

She explained that viewers more likely will grasp the concepts if they are presented in their native languages.

"If we could reach people with what they understand best, we're going to have the greatest impact on them learning about smart energy," she said.

Smart energy is not only good on the environment, but can save homeowners money, McKeen said. For instance, installation of a smart meter will measure how many kilowatts of electricity are being used and might encourage the purchase of more energy-efficient appliances.

Homeowners also might better spread out their energy use by running some appliances during nonpeak hours. Smart thermostats are available that are highly programmable and can even assess when a room is unoccupied, McKeen said.

"It's really quite comprehensive," she said.

Lily Molnar, a junior at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, where she is a member of the environmental club, said the club members have decided to take on the challenge.

"We decided it would be an awesome project," she said.

Lily said she is excited by the opportunity to learn more about conservation herself and to make a professional-quality video. Of Hungarian background, Lily said she would like to incorporate Hungarian in the video, along with Russian, Spanish and one other language.

"I think it would be amazing to get the word out," she said.

Jeff Gahris, energy adviser at SCARCE, said he also expects to have a video in Urdu, spoken in Pakistan, and hopes for one in Polish. "Chinese or Vietnamese could be good," he added.

Gahris said the videos should last about three minutes and perhaps could tell a family story.

"Some who have gone through difficult times, they tend to be frugal with their money," he said.

McKeen said she doesn't worry about what the motivation is as long as it results in energy conservation.

"This is a very different way to reach out to people," she said.

To learn more about the Focus on Energy film festival, or to sign up a team, go to

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