December 16, 2009

Feature: Dr. Stephanie Smith, Delaware Technical Community College, on Green Workforce Training

The December 2 issue of this newsletter featured an interview with Dr. Mary Spilde, President of Lane Community College (LCC).  For more than 20 years, and with visionary faculty like Roger Ebbage, LCC has been at the front of the pack for energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) programs.  Mention ‘community college green workforce…

The December 2 issue of this newsletter featured an interview with Dr. Mary Spilde, President of Lane Community College (LCC).  For more than 20 years, and with visionary faculty like Roger Ebbage, LCC has been at the front of the pack for energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) programs.  Mention ‘community college green workforce education’ and LCC will likely be one of a handful of schools that come to mind.

steph-smith-headshot300In this issue, we feature Dr. Stephanie Smith, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC) who’s been influential in helping begin creation of green energy educational offerings to prepare Delaware’s workforce. She’s the first to say she’s aspiring to replicate LLC’s quality.

I spoke with Dr. Smith earlier this summer, and though our conversation was brief, I knew then that this was a woman of undeniable determination.  When we actually met at the 3rd New Ideas conference in Albany last month, and though it was the opening plenary, Smith was already loaded down with papers.  It’s no surprise that DTCC has moved up so quickly in the green workforce training community.


How it started
In fall 2006 Delaware Tech began to explore Delaware’s workforce training needs in energy management, conservation and renewable energy.   While its nationally recognized HVAC program had included geothermal content for 15 years, the College understood that an emerging green economy was creating more opportunities for homeowners, business owners, facilities managers and technicians in the field to benefit from expertise in energy.   With four campuses statewide, smart energy use was also a priority for Delaware Tech as well.  Unfortunately, there was little evidence in Delaware of emerging energy jobs or changing job skill sets that justified new educational offerings.  A survey of Delaware businesses revealed nominal interest in retraining the current workforce or hiring new technicians. Yet, despite the survey, DTCC offered a new Facilities Energy Management Certificate program that attracted enrollment of a small group of HVAC technicians, second-year students and facilities managers. And by the fall of 2008, Delaware’s energy landscape had dramatically changed. The college was anxious to respond.

Timing is everything
“Timing is everything said Smith.  “In 2008, Governor Jack Markell was elected and his vision is to transform Delaware’s economy into climate prosperity.    He brought Collin O’Mara from California to be Delaware’s cabinet secretary for environmental and energy change. Their vision has already produced new mandates and incentives that will drive the greening of all jobs, as well as create new energy related jobs for Delawareans.  There is clear commitment to capitalize on economic development opportunities throughout the whole energy value chain…and make Delaware an even better place to live.  Delaware Tech is seen as a major part of the strategy.”

As a result, Delaware passed impressive standards for increasing its use of renewable energy and decreasing electricity consumption, removed barriers to renewable energy installations and set higher energy efficiency standards for new construction, established a new Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) to make renewable energy more attractive and cost-effective, and is encouraging Bluewater Wind to create the first wind park in the U.S. off the coast of Delaware.

Gearing UP!
These exciting developments aligned with Delaware Tech’s creation of a high-powered advisory committee to guide development of its new energy programs.  The statewide, 32 member Committee includes energy heavy-weights from business and industry, government, and research such as Dr. John Byrne, Director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (with Vice President Al Gore); Delaware’s Senator Harris McDowell, a respected renewable energy advocate; Michael Bowman, Chairman of the Delaware Technology Park, an incubator of high tech business innovation; Ralph Nigro, Director of the Sustainable Energy Utility, Secretary Collin O’Mara, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC); energy business owners and utility company leaders.

The Committee enthusiastically endorsed the College’s vision to become a regional center of excellence in energy education and offer:

  • Associate degrees to train energy managers and “green power” technicians;
  • Certifications in areas such as renewable energy technologies, energy auditing, energy management, green building design and construction, hybrid and electric transportation, ammonia refrigeration, and industrial maintenance; and
  • Workshops on a variety of energy topics for technicians, facility managers,residential energy users and specialized industries such as poultry and cold storage.

Of course, the biggest question facing the college and the advisory committee was and continues to be, “Where are the jobs?”    The advisory committee suggested the college bring up offerings in three timeframes to align with emerging and changing jobs:

  • Near Term – energy auditing and weatherization;
  • Mid-term – energy management and solar technology; and
  • Long-Term – off-shore wind.

Delaware Tech also consulted with energy experts such as Dr. Debra Rowe, President of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development.  Smith explained, “Debra helped us see that our role as a college was not just to anticipate the job market and be poised to respond, but also to take action to grow the market.”  As a result, the College’s new energy faculty will be offering free workshops to the business community on how going green can improve their company’s performance and homeowners’ conservation.  This awareness will fuel the market for green technology, products and services…and “greener” jobs.

Making Things Happen
Within five months of the first advisory committee meeting, Delaware Tech had become a Building Performance Institute (BPI) affiliate, developed an approved 52 hour course, hired credentialed faculty, and offered the first energy auditor course.  The Department of Labor provided WIA funding and DNREC offered $17,000 in scholarship funding to students.

Department chairpersons from computer and electrical engineering technology and HVAC drafted a solar PV certificate to teach students the competencies needed to explain solar PV, conduct entry-level site assessments, develop cost estimates, and install and trouble-shoot installations, under supervision.

The College finalized funding, including an $800,000 EDA grant, to build Energy House on its Owens Campus.    According to its website, the house will serve as a learning center for alternative and renewable energy technologies for Delaware Tech’s energy education and training programs, including the ability for students to gain competencies for installing, maintaining and operating renewable energy systems.

Smith called IREC in late summer 2009 to ask about its about its ISPQ process. It was a good conversation; she asked great questions–lots of them.  I told her about the 2009 New Ideas workforce conference in Albany, NY in November.  “You should go,” I said.  “Think of it as a three-day immersion class in national green workforce education.”

Smith did go, along with six colleagues, to the New Ideas conference.

When I met Dr. Smith in Albany, one of the first things she asked was if I would introduce her to  Roger Ebbage who runs Lane Community College’s enormously successful Energy Management Program.  She had talked with him on the telephone in the midst of her quest to learn more and wanted to thank him in person.  “Roger was so helpful to me.  He took time to call me back, frankly, when many other seasoned energy educators did not, and provided very helpful guidance.”

Smith and her colleagues were impressed with the resources and contacts the conference provided. “There is a myriad of committed individuals and organizations to help community colleges develop quality programs,” said Smith, “and I’m planning on tapping those resources.  Though we’re just starting to understand the landscape for accreditation and certification, that there’s so much support from organizations such as IREC, NABCEP, and Lane Community College.  We’re so fortunate to be doing this now.”

“Happy holidays, Delaware Tech!  You get new faculty!”
When Smith emailed me last week to tell me Delaware Tech recently announced that it secured resources to fund three full-time faculty positions for green energy technology education, I had to call.

“Even in this difficult economy,” said Smith, “the President and the Board of Trustees understand that this is a priority and fully support the Governor’s agenda, so they’ve committed a portion of our recent tuition increase to fund these positions.  This is a significant investment and demonstrates the College’s serious commitment to energy education and sustainability.”

Smith said that the new faculty positions will be posted the first week in January on the College’s web site, and hiring will take place during the spring.   As programs scale up, the faculty will develop and teach introductory courses in energy management and sustainability across curricula for non-majors, free workshops and conferences for business owners and consumers, and energy management, efficiency and renewable energy technologies for majors.

Now…about finding just the right faculty.
“One of the things I’ve learned from talking with people in energy education is that qualified faculty may come from a variety of backgrounds. For example, we may have a competitive applicant with an associate degree in HVAC and extensive experience in energy management or solar PV, having worked their way through the industry and earned well-respected national certifications in the process.  Therefore, we aren’t limiting the qualifications to advanced degrees in mechanical or electrical engineering.  And, we recognize we may not find every credential we need in the final candidate for the whole array of offerings we will provide.”

Ultimately, Delaware Tech wants all green faculty to become ISPQ certified, and for the College to become ISPQ accredited.  “It’s all about walking the talk.”

Despite the uptick in green workforce activities at her institution, Smith is circumspect about her work.  “We recognize we have a lot to learn, yet we are excited to be on this journey.  I have three two-inch binders and a shelf of folders bulging with information and yet could spend every day on this topic alone.  We want to get this right.  That’s who we are as a college and what the planet and country deserve. ”

I know she has those binders, and I have no doubt they’ll get it right.