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Student group joins international solar movement

In recent years there have been a number of calls to action over climate change by everyone from Brad Pitt to Barack Obama. 

While many like to talk about the issue, one award-winning USF organization is playing a more tangible role to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Rachana Vidhi, who graduated this summer, founded USF’s chapter of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES-USF) last spring. 

“Over the past six months, we have given over 100 students … the experiences necessary for them to contribute to solar energy,” she said. “(ISES) wants to inspire an era of solar energy innovation … and to advance education, research and policy.” 

The group’s students were selected for programs in Chicago and Colorado where they have been able to work on and learn about cutting-edge research in the field of solar energy. They have also completed internships at organizations such as Young ISES, ISES-USF’s parent organization.

When it was only two months old, the group won the Center for Student Involvement’s award for Best New Student Organization for its “extraordinary growth” and “exceptional collaboration” with other organizations such as Young ISES and the numerous companies it brought to do tours and lectures. After one lecture, Bright Solar Systems hired nine ISES-USF students to set up a solar energy conference.

Past speakers have included engineering and business professors and CEOs discussing everything about solar power, from its aesthetics to finances and engineering.

Vidhi said many were interested in solar energy back in January when she first got the idea to start an ISES chapter, but students didn’t seem to have a platform to take action. 

“We founded this organization to give students opportunities and roles where they can help solar energy grow,” Vidhi said.

To give even deeper views beyond the experts’ lectures on the industry, ISES-USF organized tours of various energy facilities.

Students were able to visit USF’s solar FLeX house on Alumni Drive, Vista Energy of Pinellas County, and Tampa Electric’s (TECO) coal power plant to learn about all aspects of energy industries.

Taher Hussein, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, will be succeeding Vidhi as ISES-USF’s president this semester. Hussein said many have expressed interest in giving lectures this fall, including the current and a former president of ISES and Solar Energy International’s founder.

“We try to introduce speakers who are actually trying to make a change,” he said.

Later in the semester, ISES will unveil a project in which undergraduates will work with graduate students to develop their own solar energy systems and business models that they will present Nov. 21. 

“We want to expand opportunities for students of all majors who are not necessarily associated with a research group but want to work in this field,” Vidhi said.

ISES-USF will also participate in the Zero-Energy competition, where they will build solar cars and zero-energy homes. Their projects will be scored on affordability, practicality and efficiency by USF-ISES advisers as well as individuals from the national ISES group. 

Vidhi said solar energy awareness is important because people from our generation will be the next leaders powerful enough to make a difference.

“We want to educate the generation to be more conscious about the field and support renewable energy, and when they get into a place of power, to work toward a more sustainable future,” Vidhi said.