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Ryan Duncan, who received his renewable energy training at Kankakee Community College in Illinois, enjoys the view from atop a wind turbine.
Photo: Kankakee Community College
In 2008, Ryan Duncan was employed, but jobs like his were being eliminated or sent overseas. So he enrolled at Kankakee Community College (KCC) in Illinois to seek a career change.
In his second semester at KCC, he heard about renewable energy training courses. Soon he was studying electrical technology with a renewable energy focus—all while still working full-time. Duncan earned a certificate from the electrical technology program in 2011, as well as certificates in small wind technology and solar photovoltaic (PV) technology.
Even before he finished the programs, Duncan was offered a full-time job with benefits and opportunities for advancement. Now, the 28-year-old is a service technician for utility-scale wind turbines. He operates and maintains the 53-turbine Hoosier Wind Farm in Goodland, Ind.
“The biggest benefit of the KCC program was that grants gave us the opportunity for hands-on training,” Duncan said. “We used actual solar panels and put up real turbines.”
With an $855,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), KCC will be able to train even more students for jobs in the emerging industry of renewable energy technology.
“Future jobs depend on developing skills in energy technology,” said KCC President John Avendano. “This grant award allows the college to further develop our specialization in training renewable energy technicians. We plan to develop and expand this program at the pace of business and manufacturing growth.”
KCC will use the grant, from NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, to launch a project called “C4: Community Colleges Confronting the Conundrum.” The “conundrum” is whether to train technicians for renewable energy jobs that don’t yet exist, or to establish strategies to create renewable energy jobs.
“Our answer is to do both and at the same time,” said Tim Wilhelm, who will direct the C4 grant. “Market development is a key component of the C4 strategy.”
The new project builds upon a previous 30-month ATE grant which ended in February 2011. The first grant supported the development of three certificates in renewable energy technologies.
Wilhelm, who is KCC’s electrical technology program coordinator, also directed the first NSF grant at KCC.
Plans to expand
The college will use the new grant to help create solar PV training sites throughout the Midwest. KCC will establish a C4 training center on campus in partnership with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association of Wisconsin. The C4 center will be replicated at six other community colleges in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Michigan. Eventually, the model will be available to community colleges nationally.
“C4 applies to any renewable energy technology, but KCC’s project begins with a focus on solar photovoltaic technology,” Wilhelm said. “Our research shows no other college with a comparable model. Part of the issue for growing renewable energy employment across the country is cultivating market development for employers. We are the first ones to make market development a serious aspect of our training program.”
The project’s broadest impact will be on faculty and students at small, rural community colleges across the U.S., Wilhelm said.
Copyright ©2014 American Association of Community Colleges