Winds of Revival

Communitycollegeweek_logo The SEED Center, a program to dramatically scale up green jobs training at community colleges, by ecoAmerica and American Association of Community Colleges, is featured in this week's cover story from Community College Week.


By Paul Bradley

Community College Week

November 1st, 2010

Colleges Sharing Their Green Energy Initiatives

Photo courtesy Mesalands Community College

The new North American Wind Research and Training Center at Mesalands Community College will provide state of the art facilities for research and training qualified technicians in wind energy technology.

Time was that the small town of Tucumcari, N.M., thrived as a rowdy railroad camp, crowded with saloons and populated by armed outlaws and showgirls, only to fall on hard times as the rails moved westwar

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The hardscrabble town rose again as new businesses cropped up along U. S. Route 66, the “Mother Road” which ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and provided a pathway for the migrants who headed west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

But as the Interstate Highway System began to crisscross America, towns of the Southwest struggled anew, some disappearing altogether. Tucumcari survived, but the halcyon days are but a memory. (A portion of Old U.S. Route 66 still runs through the heart of the city and remains a tourist magnet.)

Now, the winds of economic revival are blowing again, propelled by the whoosh of a windmill rising 400 feet above the campus of Mesalands Community College.

Last month, the college dedicated the North American Wind Research and Training Center, a 26,000-square-foot edifice that includes a facility for applied research in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories — the first-ever such partnership between a national laboratory and a community college.

The new center will provide associate degree training for wind energy technicians, meeting the fast-growing demand for “windsmiths” in the American West, jobs that pay between $45,000 and $60,000 a year. It also places Mesalands at the forefront of a field being dominated by community colleges — training workers for the emerging green economy.

There are other examples around the country:

  • At Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts, efforts began a decade ago to train technicians for jobs in the coastal area’s growing number of wind farms. Hundreds of students have earned degrees in coastal management, solar technology, wastewater and other careers, including cleanup of Superfund sites at an abandoned military base.
  • At Oakland Community College in Michigan, more than 350 students are enrolled in the college’s Renewable Energies program and related courses. Students gain field experience in the community, refurbishing public buildings with renewable materials, performing energy audits for government and working with small businesses and hospitals to reduce waste and pollution.
  • At Columbia Gorge Community College in Oregon, a short-term program for windpower technicians, designed to meet pressing industry needs, resulted in a 92 percent placement rate, with graduates earning up to $24 an hour. The program has evolved into a two-year degree program ending in an associate degree.

The colleges are training workers to toil in the fields such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building and sustainability. The programs are as varied as the campuses housing them.

Launch of SEED Center

Now, for the first time, colleges from coast to coast are coming together to collaborate on and implement programs to give students the skills they need to succeed in these growing fields.

Last month, the Sustainability Education & Economic Development Center — or SEED Center — was launched as a leadership initiative,resource center and online sharing environmentforcommunity colleges to gather and spread the best educational practices in the training for the rising green economy.

It’s an effort led by the American Association of Community Colleges and ecoAmerica, a non-profit group that uses consumer research and leverages partnerships to create awareness and understanding about environmental solutions.

The goal of the SEED Center is to assist two-year schools in preparing the American workforce with the skills needed to succeed in sustainable, clean technology and other green economy jobs.

Less than a week after it was launched, more than 300 community colleges had signed on to the initiative.

“Community colleges are uniquely positioned to be leaders of the sustainability movement, focusing on local economic development and partnering with businesses and government to provide access to jobs,” said John J. Sygielski, president of Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon and chair of the AACC Board of Directors.

“Community colleges are the backbone of American workforce training, and now is the time for us to step up and help our students and communities restore American prosperity,” he added.

The center swiftly won the endorsement of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“The SEED Center has the potential to be a leading resource so members of the higher education system can share knowledge and skills among member institutions about sustainability and the critical role it must play in our future economy,” Duncan said in a statement.

“Community colleges play a critical role in engaging and expanding our global conversation about sustainability. The 1,200 community colleges across the nation have the reach to touch millions of students with a message that environmental leadership and economic growth can and must go hand-in-hand.”

“This process puts community colleges on the front lines of the sustainability movement.”

Local Connections

Community colleges leapt to the forefront by taking advantage of their ability to connect with their local communities and react quickly to the needs of local employers. For example, 17 wind farms generating 1,722 megawatts of power are operating or are planned within 250 miles of the Mesalands campus, according to Clean Energy Pioneers, a non-profit group which promotes sustainable energy in the American west.

There are hundreds of programs around the country. But the SEED Center represents the first time that information on the various and diverse initiatives have been located in one place — a depository for curricula and curriculum materials, certification and credentialing data, employment and industry projections, skill sets and career pathways, and innovative practices and partnerships.

“There is a vast amount of information on green jobs training out there, but SEED cuts through the clutter and brings together the best resources, providing them for free to all community colleges,” said Amy Golden, executive director of ecoAmerica.

“Until now there hasn’t been a nationally available network or resources to connect schools with advanced programs with schools still developing their curricula. The SEED Center (www.theseedcenter.org) will fill that important void.”

In its initial incarnation, the SEED Center will focus on four sectors: solar, wind, green energy and energy efficiency. In time, it will expand to areas such as sustainable agriculture, geothermal, smart grid technology, water and wastewater and alternative fuels.

Each of the initial sectors appears poised for rapid growth and more employment opportunities.

For example, according to the Seed Center:

  • In the solar sector, overall employment jumped by 10,000 jobs between 2009 and 2010. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the sector directly supports 46,000 jobs nationwide, a number that is predicted to rise to 60,000 by the end of this year. The growth is fueled by rising energy prices, advances in technology and the continued enactment of federal and state policies.
  • The wind power sector invested $17 billion in the U.S. economy in 2009 and now employs about 85,000 people. If the country meets the goal of providing 20 percent of the nation’s energy needs by 2030, about 250,000 more workers will be needed. Today, 36 states have utility-scale wind projects.
  • The green building market has grown for several years and represented a $48 billion national market in 2008. That number is projected to triple over the next five years. Green building construction currently supports more than 2 million jobs. By the year 2013, green buildings will support nearly 8 million workers in a range of occupations.
  • Energy efficiency occupations are expected to rise to 1.2 million workers by 2020, According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, an estimated $300 billion was invested in energy efficiency technologies and infrastructure spanning multiple sectors in the United States in 2004.Currently, 28 states have enacted energy savings goals through legislation or are considering doing so. Professional occupations such as engineers, architects, managers, and energy efficiency program managers will account for about 25 percent of the workforce.

College presidents who sign up and pledge to become members of SEED agree to incorporate the promising practices and curricula into programs, develop and engage faculty and staff, engage students and invite participation, partner with employers and the community and share resources and encourage other colleges to participate.

For community colleges seeking to develop green jobs courses and programs, the SEED Center offers a variety of resources. Content includes curriculum resources, industry and employment information and case studies. There is additional information on program implementation, faculty development and funding.

Mesalands, which graduated its first class of 23 wind technicians earlier this year, was among the first colleges to join the SEED Center.

Its new training center includes the college’s General Electric 1.5 megawatt wind turbine located adjacent to the new facility, and a blade maintenance complex with high bay doors at each side for pull-through capabilities of trucks carrying 120-foot wind turbine blades. It also contains electric and electromechanical laboratories, an 84-seat inclined lecture hall, portable industrial classrooms, a conference room and offices.

It was funded with a a $7 million bond issue approved by the by New Mexico Legislature in 2008.

More information on the training center can be obtained at www.mesalands.edu/wind. Information on the Seed Center is at www.theseedcenter.org.

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