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Meet our new Power Player, Diane Ernst

Diane Ernst first heard about She’s in Power and the program manager position through the Sustainable Living Association. After reading the job description, she was all in.

“I’m super passionate about empowering the next generation,” enthused Ernst. “I thought the position would give me the ability to do that while tangibly helping tackle the real issue of women in clean energy. I wanted to be part of it.”

Ernst is no stranger to catalyzing young people. As a City of Fort Collins Public Engagement Specialist, she saw a gap in programming for local teenagers. So she created and still runs a free program where teens and mentors work together on environmental stewardship, leadership and climate action. She considers it the best part of her job.

“It’s what I love most: empowering those teenagers,” said Ernst. “She’s in Power gives me the opportunity to do more of what I love. It’s also about filling a gap in programming, reaching out to and providing opportunities for a certain subset of the community that may not feel they belong in the space of sustainability or clean energy.”

Ernst brings more than 10 years of experience in public engagement and environmental education to She’s in Power. She credits her success to seeking out strong female mentors who have coached and inspired her, along with actively pursuing professional development opportunities like the sustainability training that led her to She’s in Power.

The future of the She’s in Power program looks bright with Ernst at the helm. She and the rest of the She’s in Power team have a clear vision for the program in the months and years ahead. The first big focus will be making the program more inclusive, equitable and accessible — not just reaching young women and girls, but also young women and girls of color. Next, the team will work to retain She’s in Power alumni, creating a pipeline for the program.

“Maybe that means a Spark becomes an Energizer or an Energizer becomes a Power Partner, or a Power Partner donates money to continue the program,” explained Ernst. A great way to start building that pipeline, she said, is sharing personal stories about how the program has impacted people. “What if somebody does a Power Project and then two years later, gets a job in the clean energy field? Let’s tell that story! That’s so exciting and allows more people to see women in clean energy, to spark that inspiration to do this work.”

The She’s in Power Team is also working on scalability. Ernst is a big believer in collective impact and plans to package She’s in Power in such a way that other communities can take it on — both in and outside of northern Colorado. “There’s so much power and greatness in this program. I’m excited to open doors, hear from people and really get things going.”

Read our full conversation with program manager Diane Ernst.

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One mighty endowment

Colorado C3E was selected by the Mighty Arrow Family Foundation to receive a general operating grant in the spring of 2020. Foundation grants are awarded by invitation only, so it’s an honor that the Foundation took note of our work and a privilege that we were selected to receive funding.

“We saw value in the mentor-mentee program She’s In Power was implementing,” explained Jordana Barrack, executive director of the Foundation. “The ability to help younger women find positive role models in the clean energy sector truly is powerful. We are excited to help others find inspiration in the work that will define our futures.”

The grant awarded to Colorado C3E is a 3-year funding commitment dedicated to helping the She’s in Power program launch and expand its reach. The objectives of She’s in Power align well with the Foundation’s interests in supporting innovative climate action solutions, helping communities become more climate change resilient and transitioning to a clean energy economy. The size of Colorado C3E is also a good fit for the Foundation’s mission-aligned philanthropy.

“When we find small organizations that are doing important work in our community and can build a relationship with them, we can really help move the needle,” said Barrack.

Colorado C3E is putting the Mighty Arrow Family Foundation grant to immediate use by hiring a dedicated She’s in Power program manager. We are thrilled to welcome Diane Ernst to the team and broaden the impact of She’s in Power.

Find out more about the Mighty Arrow Family Foundation and its vital work for our community at MightyArrow.org.

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One small action to benefit everyone

The nonprofit onexeveryone fosters collective climate action by soliciting small monthly donations, starting at $2, from a large group of people. When we act together, we are all empowered to affect bigger change. Every month, onexeveryone awards all collected funds to an organization working toward climate balance.

She’s in Power is proud to have been the October 2020 onexeveryone recipient with our work to innovate a sustainable community today by developing the diverse clean energy workforce of tomorrow. The donation will be used to kickstart 2021 Power Projects and reduce our community’s carbon footprint.

Learn more and join the climate movement at onexeveryone.org.

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The power of 2020 projects

2020’s batch of Power Projects included three partnerships with Fort Collins Utilities and the CSU Energy Institute to help our community plan and implement greater solar energy use.

Ishita Kekare and Archana Sajeev measured the impact of installing PV solar systems on homes in Fort Collins. They found that energy consumption after PV installation remained essentially flat (1.5% increase for Kekare and 3% decrease for Sajeev) and more than half of the solar energy generated was transferred to the city’s energy grid vs. used by PV system owners (54% was returned to the grid for Kekare and 58% for Sajeev). This greater understanding of residential energy use and how much PV-generated energy is being transferred to the grid will allow Fort Collins Utilities to increase PV installations to support the city’s climate action plan.

Giuliana Seretti developed a new modeling process that will allow the City of Fort Collins to have a more accurate estimate of our community’s PV system generation. The current model provides estimates on a system-by-system basis. With approximately 2,000 PV systems to account for, making accurate, community-wide PV output estimates is a challenge. Seretti’s updated modeling method will give the city the big-picture view it needs, and at near real-time.

“These projects were all quite technical in nature and led by two master’s candidates and a senior Bachelor of Science student, all in engineering,” said John Bleem of JRB Energy Solutions and the CSU Energy Institute, who was a mentor for all three Power Projects. But any young woman who is interested in climate action is welcome. “Future She’s in Power projects can be quite different, less technical and exploring broader topics. We want to engage young people in STEM and clean energy.”

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Meet Diane Ernst: She’s in Power Program Manager

Diane Ernst first heard about She’s in Power and the program manager position through the Sustainable Living Association. After reading the job description, she was all in.

“I’m super passionate about empowering the next generation,” enthused Ernst. “I thought the position would give me the ability to do that while tangibly helping tackle the real issue of women in clean energy. I wanted to be part of it.”

Get to know She’s in Power’s new program manager, Diane

How did you first hear about Colorado C3E and She’s in Power?

This year, I completed a training with the Sustainable Living Association. Through that, I learned about the job opening for She’s in Power. I thought it was a great fit, and I applied for the position in the fall.

What made the position feel like a good fit?

Reading the job description got me to the C3E website, where I learned about how C3E got started and the passion behind the initiative of getting women in clean energy. It spoke to me. In terms of the She’s in Power job itself, I’m super passionate about empowering the next generation, and I thought the position would give me the ability to do that while tangibly helping tackle the real issue of women in clean energy. I wanted to be part of it.

Your work with the City of Fort Collins is a great springboard to She’s in Power. How will your experience inform your work for She’s in Power?

A big part of what I do at the City is work to fill gaps in programming. There are a lot of environmental education providers in Northern Colorado, but I saw a gap in reaching teenagers and providing free, educational, stimulating programming for them in Fort Collins. Working for the City allowed me to start a club for teenagers where we work on environmental stewardship, leadership and climate action. She’s in Power is also about filling a gap in programming — reaching out to and providing opportunities for a certain subset of the community. That’s what sparked my interest. The program I run at the City is only a small part of my job, but it’s what I love most — empowering those teenagers. She’s in Power gives me the opportunity to do more of what I love.

The She’s in Power program is part of the overall C3E mission of empowering women and girls. Have you encountered any challenges as a woman in your profession? How did you overcome them?

I’ve been in public engagement and environmental education for over 10 years. There are a lot of women in this field, but what’s difficult for women is moving out of an education position and into a leadership position. A lot of upper-level management is run by men. Including more women in the leadership, planning and more management-level positions in this field has been a challenge.

For me, the greatest thing I’ve been able to do is find mentors and strong women in the field who can coach and inspire me. That’s been a huge game changer. And I’ve worked to widen my skillset, find professional development opportunities, and network and meet people. All these things have allowed me to excel in other areas and be able to move up.

I’m one of those people who is not afraid to network; it comes easy for me. But now I’m trying to be a mentor and find opportunities for other people who might have a harder time being comfortable networking and reaching out — because it can be a little intimidating.

Your background is in education, which is a big part of C3E. How do you think educators themselves can inspire more girls and women to stick with STEM-related fields?

The way I view it, exposure at a younger age is huge. So when girls have decisions to make about what they want to do, they know these areas of study and fields exist. The biggest gap is just not knowing that these things exist. One way to combat that is finding schools that provide STEM opportunities. What’s great about She’s in Power is it helps girls and women find opportunities outside the normal school day and school system. It’s a great way to foster skills and then find friends who might be interested. If your child is expressing an interest in something, finding opportunities for them to be able to dive deeper is really important.

As Program Manager, you have the opportunity to help shape She’s in Power. What is your vision for the program?

A big focus for the next few years will be making the program more equitable and inclusive — not just reaching young women and girls, but also young women and girls of color. We’re willing and able to take on the challenge of getting She’s in Power in front of people who don’t know it exists, to change the way we market and communicate to get this program out in the community so it can be accessible for everybody. And within our programming, making the projects themselves inclusive, equitable and accessible.

Another focus is building a pipeline for She’s in Power. Now that people have been through the program, we have a group of alumni. How do we keep people engaged? We’re talking about providing opportunities for people even after they’re done with their Power Projects. So maybe that means a Spark becomes an Energizer or an Energizer becomes a Power Partner, or a Power Partner donates money to continue the program.

Part of building a pipeline is sharing stories. That’s another part of our vision — getting the word out and encouraging people to share how the program has impacted them. Opportunities like this are a little hard to measure immediately. But what if somebody, let’s say, does a Power Project, and then two years later, gets a job in the clean energy field? Let’s tell that story! That’s so exciting and allows more people to see women in clean energy, to spark that inspiration to do this work.

We’re also working on scalability. I truly believe in a collective impact and that you should always be working yourself out of a job. If we can package She’s in Power, another community can take it on. There’s so much power and greatness in this program. Let’s scale it up and share it to other communities and places outside Northern Colorado.

I’ve been spending the past couple of months learning how She’s in Power got started and how it has come to fruition. So much great work has happened to build a foundation for the program. I’m excited to open up doors, hear from people, meet people and really get things going. I think we’ll be able to grow our impact on the community, which is what it’s all about.

What does sustainability mean to you personally?

For me, sustainability is the way of the future. The reason I’m so passionate about the people side of it is because I would love to bring sustainability into everybody’s lives, no matter what that looks like. Maybe it’s inspiring somebody to take a personal interest in sustainability, so they start composting in their kitchen. No matter what form it takes, there’s a need for sustainability to be brought to the forefront.

The sustainability piece I’ve become passionate about lately is the concept of intersectional environmentalism. Sustainability is a way of taking care of the planet, but it’s also about taking care of people. The more we understand that those two things are intertwined and that climate change impacts people, especially people of color and low-income families, the more we’re going to be able to make strides in helping with climate action and sustainability.

 

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