Issaquah High School senior explores energy industry at USC camp
November 20, 2012
By Christina Corrales-Toy
When Issaquah High School senior Alex Hansen was tasked with a project to find a solution to combat the waste associated with plastic bottles, he thought outside of the box.
Hansen and a small group of other students from across the country suggested employing a sort of hypothetical bacteria that would have the ability to eat plastic and turn it into a substance that is more environmentally friendly.
“I personally researched a lot about these weird bacteria, I forget their name, but apparently they are being looked into as having the possibility to eat plastic and turn it into a material that is more decomposable,” he said. “It’s not really plausible yet, but it was fun.”
It was all part of Hansen’s summer visit to the University of Southern California for the weeklong USC/Chevron Frontiers of Energy Resources Camp.
Hansen was one of 24 high school students from across the country chosen to participate in the camp designed to introduce students to the opportunities and career possibilities available in the global energy resources industry.
In that particular exercise, the students were broken up into groups and asked to come up with solutions to different problems in the energy industry. Judges then awarded the group with the most innovative idea.
Hansen, who co-captained his team, thought the bacteria solution would perplex the judges, given its outlandish circumstances. But he said the idea actually intrigued them.
“We got first place, which was surprising,” he said. “We thought the judges would have thought that our idea was sort of out there, but I guess they liked it.”
The group project was only one of the many activities squeezed into the educational camp.
Hansen said he also had the opportunity to hear from USC professors and energy industry leaders.
“They had professors come in and teach, and some guest speakers from all different energy fields, like petroleum and alternative energies such as solar panels and methanol, which is a type of alternative energy, and they basically taught us about their different fields and the pros and cons of it,” he said.
The campers were housed in new freshman dormitories and fed free of charge for the week.
But even with the invaluable educational experience, comfortable accommodations and unlimited access to the cafeteria, Hansen’s favorite part of the camp was meeting and bonding with like-minded students.
“I really liked getting to meet the other campers,” he said. “They were smart, and they were passionate, and it’s refreshing to meet people like that. They were all really nice and really interesting. They were a little bit quirky, but in a good way, and I just felt like I made some really good friends that I otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Hansen, who hopes to study math or science in the future, heard about the camp from Issaquah High School’s career center. He applied, assuming he wouldn’t get chosen for the camp.
“I think I always sort of feel that I wouldn’t be the kind of person they would choose for things like that,” he said. “I was surprised when they chose me because of how selective it is, and it was really encouraging to know that they liked me, that they wanted me to be there.”
The Issaquah senior is active in the local community, where he serves on the Issaquah Youth Advisory Board, and he frequently volunteers at Eastside Baby Corner.
Hansen said his takeaway from the camp was the importance of alternative energies and conserving energy resources.
“I don’t feel like a lot of people my age really know much about it at all, but I feel like really it has to do a lot with the future,” he said. “Right now, with the economic problems with oil and gas, I feel like the energy industry needs to be explored further and that we need more people to get involved in it.”