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Green Jobs and Blue Skies at the Mayor's Youth Academy

solar powered car project

What do you get when you bring together middle school students and mentors, send them on outdoor adventures and explorations of future careers and then challenge them to build something? You get an incredibly fun summer that includes learning while building important career readiness skills. This summer, Science Matters had the opportunity to meet some fantastic young people who were participating in the Mayor’s Youth Academy Junior STEM program (MYA Jr.) in Richmond. The MYA Jr. Program was piloted this year and is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program for thirteen year old students in Richmond. “Green Jobs” and exploring other STEM careers was this year’s focus.

The Mayor’s Youth Academyhas offered workforce development opportunities for students aged 14- 19 for the past five years, and now 13 year old students are also being engaged in job readiness training, leadership development, and career explorations. Blue Sky Fund, a local non-profit whose mission is to inspire and educate urban youth in experiential science education and outdoor adventure was a partner in developing the curriculum and helping twenty-five teens explore “Green Jobs and Blue Skies.” Through hands-on experiences and visiting green employers across Virginia, MYA Jr. exposed students to potential green careers and resources in their community. Watch this Science Matters video featuring MYA Jr. students learning about solar energy, building solar cars and thinking about future careers.

Leah Walker, Program Director for the Mayor’s Youth Academy states that, “Green Jobs are one of the fastest growing industries in our country. We want to make sure that our youth are prepared to compete in that job market.” Richmond City's Mayor, Dwight C. Jones is dedicated to youth in our community and explains,

“There is no greater investment that we can make than to invest in providing for brighter futures for our City’s youth. That is why the Mayor’s Youth Academy mission is to provide development opportunities to City youth through job readiness training, leadership development, exposure to entrepreneurship, mentoring, and post-secondary career exploration.”

Students enjoyed their summer at MYA Jr. because of the variety - they were able to learn something new every day. They learned a lot about sustainability, alternative energy and environmental issues in fun and interactive ways and they explored STEM careers and businesses that they had not yet heard about. Their travels included everything from visiting roof top solar panels atto Robotic Engineering at ECPI-U, water quality testing and wild animal observation with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to Capital One’s sustainability tour to name only a few of their educational fieldtrips.

In addition to weekly trips to Green Businesses, students were also given a problem to solve. How do you make a solar car - that will actually run - using only the materials given? They were given gears, cardboard boxes, juice and milk cartons, wheels, glue, motors, solar panels, wires and tape. That’s it.

Then they were asked to explore the following issues and build the best car they could:

  • Chassis: how do you make your car stiff and strong and just the right weight?
  • Wheels and bearings: friction, traction and wheel alignment. How do you control these elements so energy is not wasted?
  • Solar power: how does it work?
  • Transmission: speed vs. force
  • Body aerodynamics

Their solar car build resulted in a race held at the Science Museum of Virginia and a celebration of a great summer of Green Jobs and Blue Skies.

If you are a Richmond City resident between the ages of 13-19 be sure to look into the Mayor’s Youth Academy for opportunities for next summer.

For more information on the program and application requirements go to

Or contact [email protected]or (804) 646.7480.

For more information on Blue Sky Fund’s transformational outdoor programs, go to or contact them at [email protected]. Blue Sky Fund works with schools to provide science field trips, after school outdoor adventure clubs and a summer leadership institute for kids.

Click here for more information on Green Careers.