NJC receives $1.3 million federal grant for wind-tech program

 The agreement has been signed, the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

Northeastern Junior College is indeed the recipient of a $1.323 million dollar federal grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor, to be used for wind energy training. The grant is part of the Department’s awarding of $125 million in Community-Based Job Training (CBJT) grants to 41 community colleges and organizations across the country. This was the Department’s only CBJT grant awarded in Colorado.  

This award puts Northeastern in an extremely solid position to move forward with the delivery of high quality wind energy technology training. The college began offering this training a year ago, bringing 20 students into a state-approved two-year degree program. Very quickly, and based on industry requests, it became obvious that there is a need to train more technicians, faster. This new grant is going to allow for this to happen.

  The area wind companies and others have been absolutely stellar in providing financial support and equipment for this still fairly new program. According to the grants office on campus, this $1.323 million grant represents 58 percent of the funds that were originally identified as being necessary to start-up and run the training program. Grant partners and previously received grants, including a State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant, will be providing up to $933,745 in resources, including a significant array of donated equipment for the program’s training laboratory.

The majority of the grant is designed to assist students in successfully completing their wind technology education, then finding and holding a job. To accomplish this, the college will be using a variety of services including NJC’s wind technology and other faculty instructors, Northeastern’s Comprehensive Learning Center, the NJC Step Into Your Future Transition Specialist, an Eastern Colorado Workforce Case Manger, project admissions counselors at NJC and Pikes Peak Community College, as well as counselors to perform credit for prior experience reviews.

Seven key partners supported the grant, including Pikes Peak Community College, Next Era, Eastern Colorado Workforce, Alliance Power, Inc., GE Wind. Wazee Wind, and Northeast Colorado Economic Development. 

While some of the students will come into the program with minimal skills, others may enter the program with prior industry training, providing them with the opportunity to receive Credit for Prior Learning. Depending on prior industry experience, along with a skill set evaluation, the student will be able to accelerate through the wind energy program into advanced wind turbine generation energy coursework via a Summer Intensive Program. This Summer Intensive Program is being made possible by this federal grant.

 “This is really exciting for NJC,” says Kent Wright, department chair for the college’s transportation and energy programs. “This is going to open up some additional opportunity for us to reach some bigger student numbers and help meet the needs of the industry more quickly.  By being able to offer this summer training to the military and others who have already acquired quite an array of training in electricity, we will be able to give credit for prior learning and then accelerate them through the more specific portion of the wind technology training.” 

Northeastern is one of two schools in Colorado that are offering wind technology training and it was the first to make it a degree option.  Red Rock’s Community College is also doing wind technology training. “We have a real advantage here in that we are surrounded by towers and have a huge, live teaching laboratory at our backdoor,” Wright points out. The wind companies who are operating in this area have been very cooperative in allowing students in the program to be in their fields as part of the training now offered at NJC. 

Wright explains that the Summer Intensive Program will consist of five-weeks of very specific training and those who participant will have had to show that they have some high competency levels in various areas of electricity. “The first group of these advanced students will enter and complete the course next summer and we expect to repeat the summer course each year after that,” Wright said.

Pikes Peak Community College will play a major part in the Summer Intensive Program, getting word out to students in that area—military personnel and others–about the accelerated training that is available in Sterling and helping to enroll students in the program.

“NJC is pleased to be able to start offering offer this new summer option,” says Dr. Lance Bolton, president of the college. “Over a year ago the NJC Wind Technology Advisory Board, which includes a number of individuals representing the wind companies invested in this area,  first mentioned the possibility of having such a program.It’s very gratifying to see NJC get this grant and be able to make this come to pass.”

The wind technology training program operates from the college’s north campus facility located on Pioneer Road. Neil Browne, a former Sterling High School teacher who specialized in industrial technology, and spent time working as a lead technician for General Electric doing warranty service repair on GE 1.5 megawatt turbines, is coordinator of the program.   Area companies, who have farms located here have generously provided training aids, in-field internships for students to get hands-on skills and been guest presenters in the classroom.

After about 18 months of preparation, NJC opened the program last fall, accepting the first 20 students into the first class. The two year program covers numerous technical electronics courses as well as training in programmable logic controllers, basic fluid power, airfoils and composites, power distribution and control systems, and wind turbine generation diagnostics. For the students that come into the program with no prior electrical or industrial experience, the two-year associate of applied science degree will require completion of 60 credits. Starting wages for trained technicians vary, but average just over $18 per hour.

CBJT grants improve the ability of community colleges to train and prepare workers for employment in high growth and other emerging industries.  The awards will focus on providing services to workers who are unemployed, dislocated, and incumbent workers.  Over the last four years, approximately $622 million has been awarded to 301 community colleges and other organizations in 49 states to promote job training, education and the U.S. workforce’s full potential.  More than 147,000 individuals have received education and training through the first four rounds of these grants.

Congresswoman Betsy Markey (center) hears about the wind technology training program at Northeastern Junior College while touring the facility with (left) college president Dr. Lance Bolton and (right) Neil Browne, program coordinator and lead instructor.

 

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