Out of the classroom and into clean energy with Heidi Auel

May 2024

Meet Heidi Auel, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) central Minnesota regional coordinator! Auel brings her passion for education and environmental stewardship to CERTs. In this role, Auel acts as a bridge, linking community members in central Minnesota with tools and support to embark on clean energy initiatives.heidi

Before joining CERTs, Auel devoted much of her career to teaching middle school science in the Brainerd Lakes Area. Her journey with CERTs began when her former school received a CERTs Seed Grant for LED lighting.

“During the project, students were able to analyze bills and determine the benefits of different types of lighting. It was great to have CERTs help through the process. The school also was able to get a solar site assessment from CERTs,” recalls Auel. 

When more than a decade into her teaching career, Auel felt it was time for a change, CERTs wasn’t far away. 

“I loved working with students, but I began to feel like I wanted to do more with making a difference with the environment and climate,” she says. “After knowing about all of the great work CERTs does via the digital Energy Stories newsletter, I was able to see that the core of CERTs work is teaching and educating.”

 A woman sits peacefully on a broken log in a snow-covered forest clearing, her snow shoes propped up. She is a white woman with dark blonde hair.

Auel snowshoeing in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in Ironton, MN.

Heidi Auel stands in a science classroom, surrounded by students.

Auel presenting a lesson on energy efficiency to Royalton High School Project YES! students on behalf of CERTs.

Heidi Auel, a white woman blonde hair, stands outdoors in a wooded area. Behind her is a sign for the Isle Royale National Park Windigo.

Auel visits Isle Royale National Park in Eagle Harbor, MI.

Nurturing through nature

Before she was a teacher and long before joining CERTs, Auel was a regular Minnesota kid. Growing up in Blaine, Auel recalls the familiar rhythms of suburban life.

“For the first eight years of my life we lived in a manufactured home park and it was amazing!” she says. “Having friends a short walk away and spending time at the park my mom could see from the kitchen window made for a great childhood.” heidi

Auel says these early years profoundly shaped her approach to community engagement.

“Eventually realizing that some people might have negative stigmas about living in trailer parks just didn’t align with my experience,” she says. “It reminds me of how important it is to make sure that communities like the one I lived in aren’t forgotten in our work.”

As Auel grew, so did her love for the outdoors. She recalls spending time at her grandparents' farm in rural Morris and summers camping on the lake near Ashby. Back home in Blaine, when Auel’s family eventually moved into a nearby house, Heidi recalls her dad taking full advantage of the new yard. Watching him tend to a lush garden of fresh carrots, potatoes, and beans every summer, had a lasting impact.

“Now I garden. I led the school garden when I was a teacher, and I was on the UMN Extension “Farm at the Arb” Advisory Committee… But my dad is still a much better gardener than me!” she says with a laugh.

Auel earned her degree in animal ecology and environmental studies from Iowa State University. During her college years, Auel found many ways to fuel her passions for community and environment.

“I worked in a corn genetics lab, tutored elementary students, and led wilderness classes and trips. In the summers I worked at camps, an outfitter near the BWCA, and was a naturalist in northern Wisconsin. After graduation, I pursued environmental education and taught at Deep Portage Learning Center, where I remain a member of the board of directors.”

Auel eventually enrolled in the Masters of Teaching program and earned her teaching license from Hamline University before moving to the Brainerd Lakes Area in 2008. From there, she started a family and went on to teach middle school science in the area for over a decade.  

I loved working with students, but I began to feel like I wanted to do more with making a difference with the environment and climate.

- Heidi Auel

Teaching and transforming

These days, Auel's classroom extends far beyond traditional walls; it encompasses entire communities. Not only does she see it as a new teaching opportunity, but also an important moment to learn. 

“There are so many rural communities I had never thought to associate with sustainability and clean energy,” she says. “But now I'm continually amazed by the people and communities quietly championing sustainability and clean energy solutions.”

With a wealth of experience in both educational and nonprofit sectors, Auel finds herself deeply moved by CERTs initiatives in underserved and energy-burdened communities.

“Many nonprofits that serve low-income residents have old buildings that are not energy efficient,” says Auel. “Being able to help these organizations with efficiency measures translates to helping with utility bills and expenses. When they can put more funding into the services they provide for communities that rely on their help, everyone wins.”

As Auel’s journey continues to unfold, her path is a testament to the power of education and community engagement in fostering sustainable change.

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