Co-op volunteers help students explore careers in energy at Marbles Kids Museum’s Future Me Fair

Chris Walton’s daughter never fails to mention to all her teachers and classmates that her father is a power engineer at North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. While she’s excited to share the fun fact at school, Walton says she’s not always able to make the connection to what he actually does.

That was until her daycare held a science fair with the theme, “good for the environment and community.”

With some left-over materials from a home remodeling project and a vision, Walton created, “Mia’s Sunshine House.” Alongside his daughter, the two were able to create a one-story home that featured solar panels and lights from a solar yard light project Walton had recently designed.

While the home was sure to impress his daughter’s peers, Walton said the project afforded him the opportunity show his daughter what it means to be a power engineer.

“As we worked on the project, I was able to teach her about wiring, batteries, and how a switch works,” said Walton. “She even watched me solder everything together to bring the house to life. It’s an experience I will never forget.”

Science fair to career fair

Walton’s Sunshine House on display at Future Me Fair. (Courtesy: Marbles Kids Museum)

One year later, Mia’s Sunshine House is still serving as an insightful model of power generation for students. Recently, Walton and a team of volunteers from North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives attended the Future Me Fair at Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh. The event invites children to explore careers in fields that excite them.

“At the Future Me Fair, we put a diverse group of professionals from a wide range of careers in front of kids so they can dream big and expand their vision of what they can to make a difference in the future,” said Hardin Engelhardt, chief learning officer at Marbles Kids Museum.

The museum has hosted the exploration fair for seven years now, and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives have been a supporting sponsor for each of the last two events.

This year Walton was able to display his model home, along with toy electric cars and other demonstrations that showed the capabilities of electricity.

“Events like the Future Me Career Fair get the gears turning inside little minds, making them ask questions like, ‘why do the lights come on when I flip a switch?’ said Walton. “The exposure to different ideas and concepts that events like this provides is like planting a seed – you never know what memory will stick in someone’s mind and turn into inspiration or a future career.”

A look into the future

When Marbles Kids Museum first introduced the event in 2014, the goal was to make career exploration accessible. Over the years, the museum has seen the event grow with more children attending and taking part in these hands-on demonstrations.

Students interact with models and demonstrations. (Courtesy: Marbles Kids Museum)

Engelhardt said the event is one that many of these students will never forget.

“While not all kids may have the opportunity on their own to visit a farm, meet an app developer or an electrical engineer, at Marbles, we make these opportunities available to all,” said Engelhardt. “These opportunities provide windows into future possibilities that kids and families may not otherwise develop an awareness of.”

Walton said he remembers when he was a child, he loved to take things apart and learn how they work. That curiosity still follows him to this day in his current role as grid infrastructure manager at North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.

While he never would have thought the model home he built for a daycare science fair would spark inspiration for so many children, Walton said he’s excited to see what the future looks like for these explorers.

“I think our participation in community events like this is one way we can help to inspire future engineers, lineworkers, and electricians – like my grandfather did for me.”