Ecotech dean: ‘There is no college like this’

In this article about the opening of EcoTech, a trade school in Aurora, CO that is entirely focused on renewable energy, sustainable design, and green technology, the program director of the school aptly states the importance to educating students in green fields because this knowledge is essential to "the nation’s success and security."  This school, and programs like ecoAmerica's SEED, are providing opportunities for college students to be empowered with a green education and help America to lead the 21st century in sustainability and a greener economy.


Posted on The Aurora Sentinel
Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ecotech dean: 'There is no college like this'

By Adam Goldstein

AURORA | Photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines dot the roof, “solar trees” stand in the parking lot and motion-triggered systems control the lights in the classrooms.

Such cutting-edge features at the 620,000-square-foot Ecotech campus near East Mississippi Avenue and Interstate 225 aren’t just for show. The commitment to “green” technology at every level of the facility’s operation points to the school’s deeper mission, according to faculty and administrators.

“One of the key issues is how we built the facility,” said Ecotech President Michael Seifert. “We have the solar trees, we have a major wind turbine; that’s a key issue. We wanted to make sure that as we teach these future employees, that we walk the talk. I think that’s very important.”

Ecotech, a trade school focused entirely on renewable energy, sustainable design and “green” technology welcomed about 200 students to its new campus in Aurora last week. Touting the only school of its kind, Ecotech officials pointed to future growth as students filed in for classes in solar energy technology, energy efficiency and other fields.

“The thought is that this will be the hub where we fine tune the program,” said Glenn Wilson, Ecotech’s academic dean. “There is no college like this that prepares (students) for these types of technical jobs in the clean energy field.”

Less than a year after the Ecotech Institute opened its first classes in a temporary facility off East Iliff Avenue, officials opened the doors to new and returning students at its permanent home at 1400 S. Abilene St. The building boasts a programmable logic controller lab and a 20-foot tower to train students on wind safety and technology installation. The school draws its faculty equally from the private sector and academia.

“There’s such a wealth of talent in the technical fields, there are a lot of companies starting up here,” Wilson said. “If you’re going to teach math or science, we hire academic people. If you’re going to teach how to break down a wind turbine, we might get someone who’s had some teaching experience, but we’re more concerned that they understand this job that the students will be doing in the field.”

Phil Myers, the school’s program director, came to Ecotech after teaching at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and at community colleges across the state. Filling a post similar to a department chair at Ecotech held a special appeal, Myers said, because of the school’s unique curriculum and because of its funding structure.

“It looked like one of the most exciting things that was going to happen in my life,” Myers said. “The state system … because of the way it’s funded, when people really need education in economic downturns, the budgets are always cut. We’re right at a time where we really need to be educating people, especially in fields that are essential to our nation’s success and security. Private institutions have the ability to fund as demand requires.”

The school’s two-year degree program offers associate degrees in electrical engineering technology, energy and environmental paralegal, energy efficiency, environmental technology, renewable energy technology, solar energy technology and wind energy technology, as well as a certificate program in sustainable interior design. Ecotech’s faculty total about 70 instructors who are all required to hold a master’s degree.

The tuition runs at about $350 per credit hour, and the specialized degree programs encompass 96 credit hours for completion.

The school’s general education requirements include math, science, English and computer technology courses.

“When we talk to the people hiring the students, we want them to have a good understanding of the physics, the chemistry, the geography and everything that’s behind the science. That’s why we have general eds,” Wilson said. “Then we have classes that are related to core manufacturing and installing. We have basic electricity, we have safety, digital electronics … so they understand the equipment in a generic sort of way.”

Ecotech’s parent company, Alabama-based Education Corporation of America, also operates Virginia College, Culinard: The Culinary Institute of Virginia and the Golf Academy of America. In total, the ECA enrolls an estimated 19,000 students.

When officials first announced plans for Ecotech last year, they said enrollment at the Aurora school could range between 700 and 1,200. Now in its third quarter, the trade school is still building its attendance numbers, Wilson said. About 75 new students started classes at the school this week, while more than 100 returning students moved to classes in the new facility.

Still, Ecotech officials say the new building can accommodate more than 1,000 students, a number they’re hoping to eventually surpass. Satellite campuses could be part of the school’s future, officials said, but the Aurora facility will stand as the model for the school’s operations and curriculum.

“As we go to the next campus, we’ll have a model,” Wilson said. “We’ll know the lab equipment, the curriculum, we’ll have experience with the employers and the jobs. This is a proving ground for this process.”

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