“To many of our students, this electrical track is an exit ticket out of poverty and an introduction to a sustainable independent lifestyle. Here at H.S.E.T., we accept challenges and we beat the odds, all as a community through engagement, outreach and supporting our students emotionally, giving our students hope and building confidence through a hands-on learning experience.”

After 14 years working on roadways, bridges and tunnels, Alfia Anderson began to consider a new career. A graduate of Transit Technical High School, a former apprentice and a journeywoman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Anderson wanted to keep using her electrical skills in a less physically demanding way. Teaching the next generation of electricians was the answer.

Today, Anderson’s students at the High School of Energy and Technology progress through a rigorous program, beginning with low voltage theory and continuing to learn residential, commercial and industrial wiring. Students work in groups of four to five, assigned roles like foreman, safety and maintenance supervisors, and operate as an electrical contractor would, giving their mock companies names and competing on projects. Anderson is HSET’s lead advisor for SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit association of trades students, and their chapter has partnered with the school’s National Honor Society chapter to create leadership and community service opportunities for students, such as peer-to-peer tutoring.

Over the course of the electrical program, students are required to complete at least 50 internship hours in the field, learning onsite with local utilities, New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, and the Marine Corps, among others. This past semester, a quarter of HSET’s students were enrolled in some type of work-based learning, from job shadowing to serving as an electrician’s helper, pursuing essential work during the pandemic.

For students at HSET, a Title I school where more than half of the student body is learning English and nearly one-third receive special education support, the opportunity is particularly important as a pathway out of poverty, Anderson says.

“Here at HSET,” she wrote in her prizewinning application, “We accept challenges and we beat the odds.”

“What is the difference between STEM and CTE? The debate begins: blue collar versus white collar; which one is better, who gets paid more, hourly versus salary, which one is cleaner? Why can’t we just be viewed as equals? With respect, STEM may have come up with the cure for AIDS, but craftsmen are the ones building hospitals. Once society starts to realize that STEM and CTE are married together on an overlapping competitive employment life cycle, then we can move forward. I say this, because we all need each other.”