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Solar panels and public issues

Chuck Buxbaum FNRM ’94 planned to put his students to work this fall.

Buxbaum got the idea when the parent of a student at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque, N.M., donated eight solar panels to the school.

Buxbaum, who teaches biology to 10th-graders and environmental science to 11th- and 12th-graders at the private school, planned to bring in an electrical engineer and an electrician to train the students to install photovoltaic (PV) panels. Funds from grants and other sources will cover material costs. Then Buxbaum was to help the youths conduct experiments and gather data while the panels provide electricity for two classrooms on the 30-acre campus.

The project involves connecting the panels to a computer so students can measure how much power the classrooms are using at different times during different seasons, as well as how much power the PV array is producing.

“They can see how much it’s generating at 8 in the morning compared to noon, or how much it’s generating at noon in December versus at noon in May,” Buxbaum said.

The project is just one of many Buxbaum does with his classes. Often, the projects involve public debate.

“Each year, I look for some environmental law or public policy that’s being debated locally or in our state,” he said. “The students research and present their findings.”

About a year and a half ago, his students testified at a hearing on proposed state motor vehicle emission standards. The proposal, which was adopted, made standards stricter in New Mexico than they are nationally. Buxbaum said his students had to testify about how they felt from a personal point of view and back it up with science.

“It was very powerful,” he said. The chair of the state environmental quality board later sent an e-mail message to Buxbaum, the teacher said, saying the youths’ input had helped the stricter standards pass.

“It’s great for the kids because they really see how the process works, that they have input,” Buxbaum said. 

Buxbaum began teaching 12 years ago after he heard about an opening at Sandia Prep. “I didn’t plan on being a high school teacher, but I’m really glad I am,” he said. As an undergraduate at Cornell University and later at ESF, he said, he planned to be a researcher or perhaps a college professor. But after a taste of working at Sandia Prep, where he teaches classes of about 15 youths, he changed his mind.

“I really loved teaching those ages,” he said. “I feel like I’m having an impact.”

Buxbaum has also taught an introductory biology class for elementary teachers at the University of New Mexico, where he was an adjunct professor for several years. He gave workshops for teachers on using a zoo or a museum as a teaching tool.

But he gets the most satisfaction working with high school students. He quotes a fellow educator at Sandia Prep who describes teaching as a calling. And Buxbaum said he got the inspiration from ESF.

“ESF was the experience that was by far the most rewarding,” he said. “I had by far the best teachers. They really inspired me.”

He also appreciated the diverse student body, which allowed him to gain a more global perspective of environmental issues.

“It just made me better aware of the global nature of the issues we confront. It’s not just the pollution of the stream, it’s the quality of all the water on earth,” he said. “That’s something that our whole society is confronting right now. The problems that humans are creating are not all local, they’re global. You have pollution in the Rocky Mountains that originated in China, and this is now causing the snows to melt earlier in the Rockies.”

Buxbaum tries to convey the interconnectedness of environmental issues to his students at Sandia Prep. His students don’t just study coal as an energy source, for instance. They visit a mine, where they see how much water is used, and then they go to a coal-burning plant.

“My students come into the class thinking you turn the lights on and they come on,” Buxbaum said. “But there’s so much water that’s used in coal mining and coal burning. When you turn off the lights, you also save water. And we live in a desert.”


Lindsay Oura EFB ’03
Music and macromolecules

Chuck Buxbaum FNRM ’94
Students intall solar

Andrew Holz ES ’04
Surprised in NYC

Mary Kiernan CHE ’81
A “terrific” college experience

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