Applications for the NTREG/TXSES Diversity Internship Program are due Sept. 30. Photo courtesy of Storyblock.

Sept. 20, 2021

Solar energy is one of the fasting growing electricity sources in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy.

And with an average of 234 sunny days per year, Dallas-Fort Worth is a prime location to continue that trend. But the outlook is not all blue skies. The solar industry is leaving women and people of color behind as it takes off.

A 2019 study by the Solar Foundation (now IREC) determined that 88 percent of solar-company executives are white and 80 percent are men, while the ranks of women and minorities remain thin. Compounding the disparity, fewer than half of the companies surveyed at the time offered any kind of mentorship program.

Long-time Dallas attorney Rosa Orenstein is leading what she hopes will be a local turnaround in those numbers. 

Rosa OrensteinRosa Orenstein, chair of the North Texas Renewable Energy Group, which is overseeing the paid internship program.

The North Texas Renewable Energy Group, for which Orenstein serves as chair, and the Texas Solar Energy Society are taking on the diversity challenge by launching the NTREG/TXSES Diversity Internship Program, designed to introduce under-resourced and underrepresented students into the clean-energy pipeline. Local companies are showing their eagerness to participate, Orenstein said.

“We’re hoping to have six interns in the fall of 2021 and six in the spring of 2022. We want to place as many as possible between now and the end of this year,” she said. 

A naturalized U.S. citizen born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Orenstein sees opportunity in the fact that few people who look like her hold positions of influence in the renewable-energy industry. “I see a tremendous, huge industry where many [underserved] young people could blossom and have good paying jobs far into the future,” said Orenstein. “African-Americans and Latinos and women are huge parts of the population who need to participate and join the renewable-energy revolution that’s going on.” 

Funded by the Texas Solar Energy Society by way of a grant from the Meadows Foundation, each internship will be part-time, pay a minimum of $15 per hour at eight to 10 hours a week, and continue for 10 weeks. The application deadline for fall internships is Thursday, Sept. 30. The application-form link is posted on the NTREG website. An application deadline for the spring internships has yet to be established.

“We’re inviting college students, whether they’re still trying to get their bachelor’s or master’s or even Ph.D., or a person who’s gotten their GED, to apply for an internship,” Orenstein said. Final placements will be based on student qualifications, scheduling requirements and expressed enthusiasm toward the program and clean energy. Candidates are required to submit resumes and transcripts, and must also have at least one recommendation from a non-relative, like a professor or past high-school teacher.

TXSES is in charge of recruiting the renewable-energy companies to participate, while NTREG, known for organizing the annual DFW Solar Tour, is helping to vet the intern candidates. Orenstein said her team is currently concentrating on students from four local higher-learning institutions — Dallas College (Mountain View Campus), the University of Texas at Arlington, Texas A&M University-Commerce and Tarrant County College  — but welcomes other North Texas colleges wishing to take part in the program. Six industry mentors also are being sought – one for each intern. For smaller companies with more modest resources, the program is positioned to subsidize a portion of the interns’ wages.

Although the internship program is set up for six companies, “We have the capability to have more if more come in,” Orenstein said, adding that the program has a good chance of continuing past next spring.

“With the President’s push for clean-energy jobs, we’re very hopeful and confident that more grant money will be available for additional internships next year,” she said.

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