by Jane Pulaski

IREC highlights ISPQ credentialed programs and instructors on its website and in The Credentialing Chronicle. 

This month: meet Tim Wilhelm, Professor and Coordinator for Electrical Technology Program, Kankakee Community College, Kankakee, IL. 

Kankakee.   I’ll admit I drew a blank.  Wisconsin, right?  No?  Minnesota? Yeah, it’s in Illinois (at least I was in the right geographic region).

Wilhelm, a Physics major from Kent State, is currently Professor and Coordinator for the Electrical Technology Program at Kankakee Community College where he’s been for 15 years (full-time).  “I  started as an adjunct instructor in the late ‘70s,” he said.  KCC’s Introduction to Solar-Photovoltaic Technology (ELTR 2334) is an IREC ISPQ Accredited Training Program (thanks to Tim).

Tim Wilhelm

Before he became professor and program coordinator, Tim started his own consulting business (since 1978, and still active), focused on renewable-energy system design, sales, and installation.  In addition to being a P.E., he earned a couple of associate degrees in Industrial Electrical Technology and Electronics Technology at KCC.  In his spare time (he’s got some?), he manages Stelle Telephone Co. (STC), a small, rural Telephone Mutual Corporation, serving the small village of Stelle, IL.  STC is the very first solar-powered digital telephone exchange in the U.S., and also the very first solar-powered ISP.  Tim is also a NABCEP Certified PV Installer, and a certified instructor for wind tower climb safety and rescue, both with S KALA and CITCA.  Though he recently allowed his SKALA certification to lapse, now Tim’s teaching the CITCA Wind Tower and Nacelle Rescue course at KCC.  “This gives my students yet another 3rd party certification,” he says.   Who is this guy anyway?

I reached out to Tim recently to ask him if he’d be willing to share his experience about the IREC ISPQ process for this issue of The ISPQ Insider.  He responded to my questions in record time.  He also sent a couple of YouTube links of him in action, including an instructional video (within a video), with students adorned in (official?) Bears hard hats.   Here’s our conversation.

IREC:  Tim, you’ve been a little busy over the past couple of decades:  small business owner, student, professor.  I’m curious to know how you migrated from student at KCC to Coordinator for the Electrical Technology Program at KCC

TW:  I did things a bit backwards.  Several years after earning my university bachelors degree, I decided to learn more about electronics.  I enrolled in KCC’s Digital Electronics course to satisfy this urge.  Immediately I found two new loves:  hands-on electronic and electrical work, and this small rural community college, KCC.  Early on in my KCC experience I told myself, “I’m gonna teach here some day.”  Opportunities then arose.  As an adjunct instructor, I taught several semesters of physics and one semester on Making Fuel Alcohol from Corn (based on a U.S. Department of Energy funded project I had recently completed).  After eventually completing my AAS degree in Electronics, one of KCC’s electrical instructors told me they were looking for a new full time instructor.  My current position unfolded from there.

IREC:  Timing is everything.  What, or who, inspired you to go the route of IREC’s ISPQ credential? 

TW: Just being recognized by, and affiliated with, ISPQ was inspiration enough.  I intended to apply years ago, when I first heard about the certification from Mark Fitzgerald, ISPQ’s founder.

IREC:  If you heard about it from Mark, that was way back at the beginning, around 2000.  Mark tapped IREC to champion ISPQ, to give voice to the wisdom and practicality of a renewable energy (and now efficiency) credential.  It took time to build the credential infrastructure, to raise awareness. Besides, you’ve been busy, though on a parallel track.  

TW:  Life has just been too full and busy during the intervening years; and, relative to the idea of “need,” I didn’t have sufficient time or energy to make it a priority.

IREC:  So let’s talk timeline anyway.  When did the planets align for you to pursue the IREC ISPQ credential?

TW:  Recently, under a grant from the National Science Foundation/Advanced Technology Education Program (NSF/ATE), I created a Renewable Energy Technician Training program at Kankakee Community College.  For the solar-PV component of that program, I applied for and was awarded IREC’s ISPQ credential for KCC’s Accredited Solar Training Program.  The next logical step was to finally put the effort into applying for my Affiliated Master Trainer Certification (affiliated with Kankakee Community College and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association).

IREC:  Obviously, you feel there’s value to being, er, multi-credentialed. 

TW:  I see IREC ISPQ accreditations and certifications as the “gold standards” for educational institutions and instructors, as NABCEP is the current “gold standard” of certification for technicians.  If I am successful in having my application approved, it will add another degree of credibility to the program I’ve put together here at KCC.

IREC: Do you know if your students come to KCC because it’s an IREC ISPQ accredited training program.

TW:   I don’t know, but I do use the credential to market to new students, and to maintain existing student populations.   Anecdotally, some students have shared that KCC’s credential was one of their primary motivations to come here.  Last semester, I had a student come all the way from Chicago (1.5 hours one way) because of the IREC ISPQ credential.  I also had a union electrician come from a fair distance away just because of the opportunity to train for NABCEP’s PV Entry Level Exam, and to sit for the exam.

IREC:  Do you know Kelly Provence, another colleague with a penchant for credentials?  How long did it take you complete the application—for Program Accreditation?

TW:  In calendar terms, it took multiple months, involving requests for submission extensions.  This excessive time was primarily due to having to have hip-replacement surgery, and being so consumed by the massive amount of work involved in successfully completing my NSF/ATE project.  Once I actually got down to completing the application, it took a significant amount of time over a period of several weeks.

IREC:  Did you have help from your colleagues at KCC? 

TW:  Yes, some.  KCC’s Human Resources (HR) department compiled a report of all the courses I’d taught here since the late 1970’s.

IREC:  That would be helpful.  For Master Trainer, it’s a total of 1,280 hours (900 teaching hours, 380 practical experience).  What would you say was the most challenging part of the process? 

TW:  Compiling and organizing all the support documentation!  Yikes!  And waiting for the verdict.

IREC:  The IREC ISPQ team is really helpful. If there are things that need to be included, they’ll work with you.  It’s an iterative (not a punitive) process.  Besides the new IREC ISPQ video on process, do you have any tips to instructors who might be thinking about applying for the IREC ISPQ credential—whether for program accreditation or instructor certification?

TW:  Clear the decks and clear your calendar!  Gather all your support documentation for your teaching experience and your professional experience, and then sort and organize it to give it some sense of reasonable flow and organization.  Since I’ve not yet had any feedback on my current application for Master Trainer, I’m not sure what is lacking, if anything.  Therefore, it’s difficult for me to give any advice beyond that.  I’m not sure yet what I did right or what I did wrong in crafting it.

IREC:  What is it they say…’no news is good news…’ So I must ask: is there any other credential out there on your ‘to attain’ list?

TW:  Several!  The next one on the list involves the new/budding collaboration between MREA and IREC ISPQ – Solar Site Assessment certification.  I want to nail this one down and then get KCC set up to offer this specific training and 3rd party certification to my students.

IREC:  Why am I not surprised. So you’d be amenable to chatting again after you rack up a few more credentials?  Thanks, Tim, for making time for the conversation.

You can reach Tim directly at [email protected]