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POWER Foundation Supports Remote Education during COVID-19

Sept. 16, 2020
POWER Foundation to pledge US$150,000 to 40 schools across the country to assist with COVID-19 relief.

When the pandemic hit, POWER was able to adapt quickly. With more than 45 locations across the globe and dozens of project offices and field employees, we were already accustomed — like most engineering firms — to collaborating with our colleagues virtually. It wasn't easy, but thanks to a great IT team and the flexibility of our team members, we were able to shift relatively seamlessly to working from home. We continued to serve our clients with no discernable disruption while continually adapting to their changing needs.

But once the initial transition to full-time "work from home" was over, we started wondering what would have happened had we not been so prepared. What if we didn't all have laptops? What if we weren't able to invest in the resources necessary to succeed while working remotely? The impacts on our team would have been painful and long-lasting.

Then, we realized the obvious — our schools throughout the country, especially those in economically disadvantaged communities, are fighting their way through these challenges that we were merely contemplating.

Identifying the problem

So many of us at POWER are lucky to be able to afford upgrades to our internet service so our kids can stay connected with their teachers and so we can work remotely, which allows us to supervise their virtual learning as best we can. Most of us are making it work, even though the circumstances are not ideal.

But we are, and have always been, a company that cares deeply about people. We can't ignore the fact that the students who will be hit the hardest by the impacts of distance learning are those who already had limited opportunities. Before the pandemic, students from low-income families might have struggled to finish their homework without internet access or might have missed out on STEM-related extracurriculars because they couldn't afford materials or travel costs.

But now, for these same students, it's even worse. Not only are some unable to access education at all but they’re also worried about new instability at home. Or they’re hungrier because they aren't able to get the two meals a day that were provided by their school.

The pandemic will have a long-lasting impact across the country and across our industries. Less than adequate education for an entire generation of economically-disadvantaged children will not lead to good outcomes for any of us. How many great future contributors to our culture and even our power industry will be lost?

Being part of the solution

Whether it's with our clients or in the world around us, we see problems and try to find solutions. That's why many of us became engineers, scientists, and constructors — to solve problems. So we asked ourselves, "How can we play a part in solving this one?" Our POWER Foundation seemed like the right place to start.

The POWER Foundation, our nonprofit organization, was founded in 2013 to support STEM education in our communities. Every year, we fund robotics clubs, STEM activities for Girl Scout troops, or mentorship programs for disadvantaged students.

But this year, in addition to our regular donations, our foundation has chosen to pledge US$150,000 to 40 schools across the country to assist with COVID-19 relief. Our efforts are focused on schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families that are the least able to adapt to the changing reality of distance learning.

Helping students and teachers stay safe and continue learning during a pandemic is the right thing to do but it's more than that. Supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful way of lessening its impact on the intellectual capabilities of our future employees.

There's still more to do

As we speak and work with administrators and teachers, we're learning even more about how deep the need goes. For some of these schools, the amount we can offer is almost insignificant compared to the vastness of the struggle parents and teachers are facing.

For example, while we offered to fund Chromebooks and other technology for one school in St. Louis, they told us all they needed was to replenish their emergency fund. This fund goes to help student families pay rent and utility bills, to provide the very basics. In the first few months of the pandemic, the fund was depleted by nearly 60% — even with additional unemployment payments and eviction moratoriums in place. This school just wanted to use the donation to help make sure their students wouldn't become homeless. Our gift felt so small when compared to the size of their problem.

Before the pandemic, so many of our leaders were already worried about the brain drain occurring in our industry. This probably has been significantly exacerbated by COVID-19. We can't let any student slip through the cracks. All of us in the power industry know the importance of investing in the future. Ensuring a bright future means supporting students in this crisis, so as many of them as possible can have one.

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