Baker University President Lynne Murray and science and business students and faculty were present at ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 3 to officially open the Baldwin City Solar Field Project. During this collaborative project, students had the opportunity to participate in field study experiences planning and implementing the project. Westar Energy partnered with Baldwin City to build a 1-megawatt solar plant earlier this year.

“The solar farm project is a great opportunity for students to gain exposure to a very interesting project almost in their own backyard,” said Baker University Professor of Business and Economics Kevin McCarthy. “They are learning about sustainability and renewable energy. Students studying environmental science have additional opportunities for learning about the impact of such a facility on the site. Additionally, there are great real-world examples for understanding project management applications.

City Administrator Glenn Rodden, Mayor Casey Simoneau, and Westar Director of Diversity and Inclusion Silas Dulan spearheaded the project with the intent to provide sustainable energy to the community and involve students in a unique educational opportunity. Through the project, city and utility officials involved the students in the planning process, project management, and implementation of a major energy project from conception to operation.

Baker business students — Logan Williams, Colby Bullock and Riley Parks — accepted the challenge and began their hands-on experience learning from Westar officials on the business plans, project management, and procurement of materials to build the renewable energy farm. Last April during Dialogos, Baker’s scholars symposium, they presented their work to the Baker community to show how Baldwin City, Baker University, and Westar Energy are truly working together for a greener future. In their presentation, the students were able to evaluate the cost and benefits of solar energy farming and whether public and private partnerships for renewable energy are a model for the future.Biology students and professor looking at solar farm site.

Baker biology student Cordy Wesonig, along with her team of fellow students, Kassandra Miller, Penny McCowen, Kate Taylor-Doran, and Daniel Rivera assessed the grounds before the solar panels were installed. They performed a preconstruction survey to categorize the plants and animals in the area, assessed the soil, and designed the site to provide habitat for endangered Monarch butterflies. The students also provided input for preservation of wildlife, runoff water, and reseeding plants, while physically replanting grasses around the solar panels.

The project also called for Wesonig and her team to monitor the impact of the solar panels on wildlife in the area. The senior credits the project for allowing her to apply what she’s learned in the classroom to a hands-on project in the field and for helping her develop professionally.

“The project has provided me with valuable skills working with a company in a real-world setting. It made me start to think about how I portray myself as a professional and a scientist,” Wesonig said. “I feel fortunate to be in a biology department that’s small enough where we can influence each other and work together to better ourselves as future scientists.”

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