Guest blog by Bobby Burkhart, biology teacher at Williamsport High School and 2021 Teacher Extern at Potomac Edison
As teachers, we are often reminded of the qualities that employers are seeking in employees and are encouraged to design learning experiences that develop these qualities in our students. This summer, I had the opportunity to be part of the Maryland Chamber Foundation Teacher Externship Program and spent four weeks at Potomac Edison in Williamsport. This experience confirmed to me that employers desire employees who can think critically and creatively, with skills for communication, collaboration and teamwork. Hearing this first-hand from power company workers has caused me to be even more committed to designing experiences that prepare my students to be the kind of employees who will be highly desirable in the workforce.
The focus of my externship was to get an overview of all the operational departments of Potomac Edison, which meant spending a day with each different department. These departments included human resources, meter reading, meter services, line crews and scheduling, engineering and design, fleet and facilities, environmental, forestry, reliability and project management, work management and technologies, electric vehicles, solar and storage technologies, substations, controls, external affairs, government affairs, economic development and customer accounts. Potomac Edison employees put great thought and effort into planning my externship experience and it showed in my daily schedule.
Even with the great scheduling and preparation, every day was able to morph in response to the questions and interests of myself and Steven, the other teacher sharing the externship with me. Each and every person I met at Potomac Edison made me feel welcomed and appreciated. I was amazed by the vast number of diverse people required to deliver electric power every minute of every day. I will always look at powerlines, transformers, substations and the people who work on them with greater understanding and appreciation as a result of this externship experience.
Working at Potomac Edison is all about teamwork, reliability, problem solving and safety. When the power goes out, life as we know it stops for those experiencing the outage. For this reason, reliability is an extremely important quality in the employees at Potomac Edison. They often talked of “all hands-on deck” during large storms until power was restored to all customers and take great satisfaction utilizing this type of problem solving. While the line workers eventually replace the downed lines and restore power, there are a great number of colleagues working behind the scenes to identify, locate, design solutions, and communicate about the solutions.
So many of my experiences at Potomac Edison were incredibly insightful in terms of workforce development. On the day spent with forestry crew I learned that Potomac Edison spends $33 million each year to trim and manage trees around power lines. Working with the forestry team was the most relevant activity to my curriculum content as a biology teacher, specifically our ecology unit. As a result, I have designed a project in which students develop a tree management plan for local power lines. This project will require students to apply their knowledge of ecosystems to a relevant, real-world situation.
Thanks to my externship, I have experienced the variety of quality jobs available at the power company and can speak to my students with greater clarity about career options. These jobs include positions that are available immediately out of high school, technical positions requiring some advanced training and positions that require a four-year degree. I can now speak to each student individually with greater specificity about a job or career that may interest them. I am entering the school year with renewed energy to continue to involve my students in learning experiences that develop problem solving skills, teamwork, reliability and safety, through science curriculum.
Bobby is a biology teacher at Williamsport High School in Washington County. He captured his thoughts via vlog each week during his externship with Potomac Edison. You can watch Bobby’s vlogs here: