If you were on the highways in the Northeast this past summer, perhaps you noticed a silver van pulling a very large, brightly decorated trailer, complete with logos and images advertising Kennebec Valley Community College’s (KVCC) renewable energy training program. Behind the wheel: Michael Paradis, en route to deliver advanced hands-on training to KVCC’s instructor trainees.

Paradis & trailer

KVCC provides solar training opportunities throughout a seven state Northeast region including:  Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.  KVCC trains a total of 24 instructor trainees from 20 learning institutions

This past summer, Paradis used the mobile solar lab to teach the hands-on portion of a new hybrid course, ‘solar PV design and installation.’  The online component of this course was first delivered to all KVCC’s SITN participants.  The subsequent three days of hands-on training was hosted at three different partnering educational institutions: University of Bridgeport (Bridgeport, CT); Sullivan County Community College (Loch Sheldrake, NY); and Howell Cheney Technical High School (Manchester, CT).

For most of his life, Michael has been immersed in the construction trades and solar. At KVCC, he’s responsible for developing solar curriculum, both onsite and online, as well as teaching. As an IREC certified master trainer for the PV professional, Michael is one an elite group of credentialed solar practitioners. Always smiling, eyes sparkling, Michael made time to visit with IREC about his work at KVCC.

IREC: Michael, thanks for making time to chat with us. I know you’ve been furiously busy, on the road a lot this summer with the training van. How has that been?

MP: With a van and trailer fully loaded with solar PV training equipment, the variety of training options that we can offer our students is limitless.  The past year of training (summer 2013 – summer 2014) has been dedicated to delivering advanced hands-on training to our SITN instructor trainees. These are train-the-trainer events, so I have a game plan for which lab activities I want to present, yet I also leave a lot of room for adaptation, and let the instructor trainees choose which equipment and/or lab activities would be most valuable to get experience with.

IREC: When the van rolls up, are the trainees like kids in a candy store?  Next year’s training for the students of the trainers—will they use the KVCC van, or do the partnering educational institutions have their own PV labs?

MP: The next year of training (fall 2014 – summer 2015), we plan to deliver a mobile solar training event for the students of each of our instructor trainees.   Now that our instructor trainees have experienced the capabilities of the KVCC mobile training unit, we can collaborate on choosing the best solar training activities to match the needs of their students.

The inclusion of KVCC’s mobile training equipment will add excitement to these collaborative training events whether the instructors have their own solar training labs or not.  Additionally, my presence adds the optional dynamics of team teaching.

IREC: How do you know that you’re training the trainers with exactly the right kind of information students need for real-world jobs? Do you work closely with industry to make sure this is happening?

Paradis training1
Paradis teaching his engineering instructor trainees the best practices of aligning solar modules onto roof mounted railing systems.

MP: Well, I come directly out of the solar PV industry. I work hard to keep all training experiences relevant to current trends in solar PV design and installations.  We base all our solar training courses to match the expectations of NABCEP entry level learning objectives, and advanced NABCEP Job Task Analysis.  I choose only the most relevant products and technologies to use in design and installation lab activities.  I not only train SITN instructor trainees, but also seasoned professionals.  Many of my students already have a lot of experience in the solar PV sector, so the mix of my student’s real-world experiences get shared at every training event.

IREC: That’s great. Real-world experiences are incredibly valuable. How did you get into this business anyway? And because I can’t let a perfectly convenient segue pass me by…what are your real-world experiences?

MP: I grew up with a great construction trades background working on roofs and building houses with my father.  I earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Vermont (UVM) in 1993, and then moved out to Colorado where I earned a second degree and started a passive solar home construction business.  This is where I really got a great introduction to solar PV technology, because at the time in Colorado, unlike here in the Northeast, solar PV power systems were often part of the original building plan for new homes.  As I got better and better with designing and installing renewable energy systems, I slowly transitioned my company from building homes to just renewable energy products and services.  I gained 10 years of experience designing and installing renewable energy systems.  For the last three years, I have been working full time for KVCC’s renewable energy programs.  My primary job duties include program curriculum development, course development of onsite, online, and hybrid courses, and instruction of these courses.

IREC: Obviously, you care about excellence, not only for yourself but also for your students. You hold NABCEP’s Solar PV Installation Professional certification and IREC’s Certified Solar PV Master Trainer. Why did you go after the IREC credential? Do you feel your students benefit from your having this credential?

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Paradis helps a lab team prepare to construct a ballasted mount PV array by reviewing the manufacturer’s installation manual. Seen in the distance is one of two “mini mock roofs” that disassemble into sections to load in and out of KVCC’s mobile training unit.

MP: Since I am transitioning my career from installation to instruction, and I already had the NABCEP Solar PV Installation Professional certification, I wanted to go after the nation’s most valued national certification for instruction: the IREC Solar PV Master Trainer.  The application process itself really helped solidify the connection of my training materials to the IREC accepted NABCEP JTA.  I have had a very positive reception from my SITN instructor trainees since I have earned the credential, and feel they will now strive to reach this ultimate goal in instructional standards.

IREC: IREC’s Master Trainer-PV Installation Professional is a very elite group of only 17. That credential exemplifies commitment to excellence and quality.  You’re an exemplary role model for your students, Michael. What do you think success looks like for them?

MP: Success looks like confidence.  When instructing classroom and hands on activities, I make it clear it’s time to experiment and ask questions.  Students need to let their guard down and not only ask questions but share their experiences.  Once we’ve shaken out all the cobwebs, and worked through some quality training activities, it’s time to empower the students.  I now help them connect their current skills to new solar PV skills, and instill their confidence to work with solar PV technologies.

IREC: Empowerment, engagement, vision leadership and a deep sense of purpose make for an indelible impact in any endeavor. What would you say has been the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect(s) of this work?

MP: Without a doubt, the most challenging aspect of my work has been course development.  KVCC’s solar training courses had been onsite only.  Translating successful onsite training courses into successful online training courses is a huge endeavor.  The initial construction of online and hybrid courses have been completed, yet my work to continuously improve the online content will be ongoing.  I feel the biggest reward comes through witnessing the transformation of professionals coming from a variety of skill sets into highly trained solar PV professionals.  It is very rewarding knowing that quality solar PV designs and installations are being implemented throughout the region.

Two instructor trainees practice with commercial flat roof ballast mounts.  Job well done!!
Two instructor trainees practice with commercial flat roof ballast mounts. Job well done!!