Why do women enter the clean energy industry? What’s the draw? For some, it’s a predilection for science and math. For others, it’s a commitment to less consumption, greater efficiency. Still for others, it’s a commitment to leave the world a better place.
Amanda Hatherly is one of those people.
As Director of the New Mexico Energy$mart Academy (NME$A) and Center of Excellence for Green Building and Energy Efficiency at Santa Fe Community College (SFCC), Amanda is professionally and personally committed to leaving the world a better place, and she’s doing it full time. Maybe more than full time.
She teaches at NM$EA, and regularly speaks about energy efficiency, healthy homes and green building training issues. She sits on the boards of the Santa Fe Area Homebuilders’ Association, Energy Out West and National Water and Energy Educators Institute. She’s a member of the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission, and a former member of the Department of Energy Weatherization Plus committee. Last year, she presented at the MIT Women in Clean Energy Symposium. SFCC is an IREC Accredited Training Provider.
Despite her busy schedule, Amanda graciously made time to visit with IREC about NME$A’s work in healthy homes and green building training. Here’s our conversation.
IREC: Hi Amanda. Thanks for making time for us. I always ask this question to all our interviewees: how did you find your way into this business? What was the draw?
AE: My husband was a contractor, and I had worked in the industry for 15 years. I became more and more interested in green construction and energy efficiency because of what I saw going on with climate change and the environment and trained for Building Performance Institute (BPI) and Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) certifications. I had my own home performance company and then, when the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding for weatherization training centers came through and New Mexico was awarded a grant, I became the training center director here in Santa Fe.
IREC: If I was a prospective student looking at NME$A, specifically for its energy efficiency curriculum, what might I expect to find?
AE: We offer high-quality, consistent energy efficiency and green jobs professional training throughout New Mexico. We stress reduced energy and water use, and greenhouse gas emissions in our curriculum and on campus. We’re very proud of our state-of-the-art lab, mobile field rig and network of nationally recognized trainers. Our training benefits industry professionals, residents and business owners in New Mexico; this keeps us engaged with our local community and the greater professional green industry.
IREC: I’d sign up, and not just because it’s in Santa Fe! What was the reason for going after the IREC credential? How has NMESA leveraged those funds to keep the program alive & well?
AE: We knew having the IREC credential would demonstrate our commitment to quality and differentiate us from other programs. We created a strong program with the ARRA funding and have continued with not only weatherization training but also other courses, such as RESNET and BPI, Building Operator Certificate (for commercial facilities staff) and Healthy Homes training. We also have some of our staff teaching in the credit departments at SFCC, so we are keeping busy!
IREC: Obviously there’s receptivity to your message with administration, faculty and students. Do you keep up with your students after they graduate? Are they working in their respective fields?
AE: It’s hard in our state to walk out the door and into an energy efficiency job as we don’t have strong residential programs for existing homes yet, though there is a push to create one. Most or our graduates are either working in weatherization or building facilities, doing this as professional development, OR are entrepreneurial. Santa Fe has one of the strongest green building codes in the country with mandatory hiring of a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rater, so many people have branched into that or green verification for codes, creating businesses for themselves.
IREC: That’s great to hear. I know you give a lot of presentations. What’s the message you deliver when you speak about energy efficiency, healthy homes and green building training issues?
AE: That everything is connected – just as we think about the house as a system, we should also see the connections between houses and the environment and the health of people and the planet. I find that framing energy efficiency and green building in that way resonates with young people in particular these days.
IREC: They do get it, don’t they? You were part of the 2013 MIT Women in Clean Energy Symposium? What came out of that? Is one planned for this year? Or next?
AE: This was a conference put on as part of the C3E initiative by the Department of Energy. I was invited to speak about energy efficiency and training issues in a state that is very rural and has high rates of poverty. The conference panels were made up of women who were working in the clean energy field to inspire younger women who were starting out.
It was really interesting as the audience was mainly young women who were from MIT and similar backgrounds. I felt as though some of what I was taking about – problems with low-income students who don’t have access to Internet or computers – was something they may not have fully considered. I like the concept of the conference and would love to organize one here in New Mexico, where young women in high school or community college can interact with successful women working in clean energy. I have found that seeing women working in those fields makes it a lot more comfortable for them to imagine a similar career.
IREC: Having a similar conference in NM- marvelous idea! Native American, Hispanic and African American women historically have high unemployment or underemployment rates. I’m curious…what do the demographics look like in your classes? Have you seen an increase in the number of women over the past few years?
AE: We do have quite a few women coming through our classes. When my assistant (who was also a woman) and I were doing outreach around the state through a Department of Labor workforce development grant, we saw almost 50% of the people who came for the trainings (all around construction and energy efficiency) were women. One of our weatherization agencies that has a female training director regularly hires and sends young women for training here.
IREC: That’s encouraging. There’s been a real push nationally to attract more women to STEM, and encourage them to enter traditional male-oriented jobs like construction and energy efficiency. Sounds like it’s beginning to pay off. Despite those positive occurrences, what would you say has been your biggest challenge?
AE: Finding enough time to get everything done and still get a break from time to time! Luckily, I have great people who work with me.
IREC: Know what you mean about the not-enough-time-to-get-everything-done syndrome. Ditto on the great good fortune of working with smart, passionate people. What’s surprised you the most about this work? What stands out as remarkable?
AE: I constantly have to step back and realize that much of the general public really doesn’t know much about energy efficiency at all. Often, they don’t know what kind of heating system they have in their house, or what a compact fluourescent light (CFL) is, so I have to make sure I am talking at a level they are comfortable with.
IREC: It’s surprising that people don’t think about energy consumption and conservation, even though it’s 2014! Guess that means we still have work to do. So what’s next in your queue?
AE: We have our residential energy auditor and quality control inspector courses now as full certificate and associates degree programs. I’d like to do the same for a commercial energy auditor program here at SFCC. But it takes a lot of time to get that type of thing set up at a college, so it may not happen this year.
IREC: One more thing to add to your ‘to do’ list! What’s your advice for young women thinking about a career in clean energy?
AE: It is a great way to go. If you are passionate about making a change in the world and concerned about our future, this is a great way for your day-to-day work to make a difference to homeowners and the environment.
For more information about the New Mexico Energy$mart Academy and Center of Excellence for Green Building and Energy Efficiency at Santa Fe Community College, visit the website.
All images courtesy of New Mexico Energy$mart Academy and Center of Excellence for Green Building and Energy Efficiency at Santa Fe Community College.