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Black Engineer Students Join GRID Program, Install Solar Panel for Low Income Family 
By Jennifer Bihm, Contributing Writer
Published April 11, 2019

Yesha Lester (center) is a student member of the National Society of Black Engineers. She joined the GRID program’s Alternative Spring Break, where she and other students installed a solar panel for a low income family in Long Beach. (photo courtesy of GRID)

A student member of the National Society of Black Engineers recently shared her experience as part of the  GRID Alternatives Solar Spring Break program with the Sentinel, telling of a recent project with fellow students in Long Beach where they installed a solar paneling system for a low income family there. Yesha Lester is currently studying computer engineering at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. The group through their project, she said, was able to save their designated family more than $33,000 over twenty years.  

I saw the opportunity to give back to a low economic community and wanted to be involved at all costs,” Lester said. 

Joining the team has allowed me the opportunity to partner with Grid Alternatives in Los Angeles this past spring break. There, the team and I were able to learn more about renewable energy and how minority communities are being affected every day. 

The student team spent a week learning about solar system design, installing solar panels, developing construction skills taught by real solar pros, and learning about California’s pioneering investments in solar access before helping to put the free solar panel system on the Long Beach family’s roof.  

GRID Alternatives’ Solar Spring Break is a service-learning program that gives college students from around the country the opportunity to spend their vacation week installing solar in underserved communities.  

More than that,” said a program spokesperson, students learn how the power of the sun can bring real-world benefits to real-world economic problems…” 

And that, said Lester, is why she took the opportunity this spring.  

I was inspired at how Grid Alternatives is truly passionate about helping communities in need and partner with organizations like Homeboy Industries to provide jobs and training for individuals who want to change their lives for the better,” said Lester. 

 I would say that this trip has been life changing and reminded me why I wanted to become an engineer in the first place. I wanted to be able to use technology to help change the everyday lives of individuals (for the better). My current plans are to graduate, gain experience in the field while expanding my network to eventually start a business or non-profit that will help disadvantage communities in some way.” 

(courtesy photo)

Solar Spring Break, has grown from six schools in 2014 to 22 schools in 2019, creating opportunities for students to make a difference in low-income communities while getting hands-on with clean energy. Solar Spring Break is sponsored by Wells Fargo,” according to program officials.  

The organizations GRID Alternatives and NSBE play a huge role in STEM for minorities, because GRID uses their resources to provide great engineered solutions using solar panels and installing them in communities that need them the most,” Lester said. 

NSBE allows minorities that are pursuing STEM to have an abundance of resources to aid in each individual’s success in the industry. 

Lester also lauded the NSBE as an opportunity generator in her community.  

I joined the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), because I lacked mentorship and a network in my community,” she said. 

Being a part of NSBE has opened so many doors for me as a young black engineer. I have had the opportunity to gain leadership skills through executive board roles, land internships from national conferences, increase my network and gain mentorship. Joining NSBE was a great stepping stone in my college career and with my NSBE family’s support, I know I can and will reach my goals. 

Overall, both organizations are positively impacting low income communities and Lester said she wants to do the same.  

“I’m looking forward to the future and looking forward to change,” she said.  

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