Coweta-Fayette EMC had a longtime goal of offering programs for STEM educators and students in its Georgia service territory, but the timing wasn’t right—until last year.

That’s when the Palmetto-based co-op debuted its Alternative Energy Summer Adventure for Teachers in partnership with the Coweta County School System. The three-day professional development experience for K-12 STEM teachers included hands-on activities and field trips to see local examples of sustainable development and energy efficiency.

For its efforts, the co-op is the 2022 recipient of the Edgar F. Chesnutt Award for Best Total Communication Program, presented May 3 during the Connect Conference in Seattle. The award, the highest honor bestowed by the Spotlight on Excellence Awards program, is named for Edgar F. Chesnutt, manager of corporate communication for Arkansas Electric Cooperatives from 1961 until 1987.

“This project wouldn’t have been possible, or as successful, without the efforts of our whole team here at Coweta-Fayette EMC,” said Chellie Phillips, the co-op’s vice president of communications and public relations. “This recognition isn’t just nice for us, but it’s a win for educators and students in our area.”

The co-op gained momentum for the project after winning a bid to serve a new middle school under the state’s “Customer Choice” program. During discussions to build an energy innovation learning center at the school, educators asked the co-op to help develop a related curriculum for teachers, Phillips said.

Working under a six-week deadline and a $16,000 budget—organizers wanted to launch Summer Adventure before the start of the 2021 school year—co-op and school employees leveraged outside connections and expertise to get commitments from partners to train teachers or host tours.

“Once we agreed on the tour stops and learning objectives, the first action was to book the stops and schedule the best routes for the three-day tour,” said Phillips. “With hundreds of emails and phone calls, the schedule was finalized like a 1,000-piece puzzle.”

The co-op also wanted to extend the learning to members unaware of its alternative energy offerings. To accomplish that goal, two co-op communicators livestreamed presentations from each of the seven tour locations, interviewed teachers and provided daily recaps.

Those efforts resulted in some 127,500 views, and there’s already a waiting list of teachers for this summer’s program. “Everybody in our service territory had a chance to benefit from what the teachers were seeing and learning,” Phillips said.

Coweta-Fayette’s vision and creativity won the judges over. “Exactly what I was looking for in this category,” wrote one judge. “This event was a new idea and was clearly well implemented. I hope this is something that will continue and other co-ops will choose to do as well.”