Minnesota West launches energy tech degree program

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West Community and Technical College will be one of nine Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to launch an Innovative Energy Technician degree this fall.

Minnesota West
Minnesota West Community and Technical College

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West Community and Technical College will be one of nine Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to launch an Innovative Energy Technician degree this fall.

The colleges will offer a two-year degree program that prepares students for work in renewable traditional energy industries.

Development of the new associate degree program -- believed to be the first of its kind in the country -- is funded mostly with a three-year, $1 million High Growth Job Training Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Besides the energy technical specialist degree, students will be able to earn a 16-credit certificate in one of four specialties: ethanol production, biodiesel production, wind turbine maintenance and solar energy assessment (which is still awaiting full approval). The certificate programs, which can be completed in as little as one semester, will be available online.

"The courses can be taken online, but we also offer them on the ground at Canby and our Granite Falls campus," said Gary Gillin, Minnesota West dean of communication and enrollment.


"Traditional energy employers have an aging workforce while renewable energy producers are struggling to find workers with appropriate technical skills," Chancellor James H. McCormick said. "These new opportunities for students will advance one of our strategic directions, which is to enhance the state's economic competitiveness."

Partnering state-run WorkForce Centers will help recruit students and place graduates in jobs.

Gail O'Kane, the system's director for education-industry partnerships, said the program "also recognizes that a great deal of uncertainty remains about which energy sources will prevail over time -- wind, hydrogen, biomass or some as-yet-unknown technology. But with a core set of skills, students will be well-positioned to complete additional training quickly as new energy technologies emerge."

Students who earn the associate degree will be prepared for work in traditional energy industries, such as in electric generation plants, or they can specialize in a renewable energy field. The core curriculum approach was championed by the industry-led Minnesota Energy Consortium, which helped fund a study that identified necessary skills.

In addition to new curricula, the federal grant supports a semi-annual energy job vacancy report, two interactive learning modules for use in secondary schools and the Energy Careers Web site, , which will have information for students, job seekers and teachers.

The grant also includes money for students.

"There's a pretty hefty scholarship component to it," Gillin said.

The project is being coordinated by the MnSCU system office, which also is providing $237,500. The colleges have received more than $700,000 from the Renewable Energy Marketplace, which administers a $5 million Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.


The new energy technician two-year degree program, along with the specialized energy certificates, adds to Minnesota West's current offerings in biofuels technology (Granite Falls campus), Wind Energy Technology (Canby campus) and the online Windsmith certificate program.

"Job growth, within these industries, is creating tremendous new student interest," Gillin said, adding that the Windsmith program is almost full for next year.

According to a news release from the college, "The recent economic downturn has resulted in lost jobs throughout the state. Many dislocated workers, as well as traditional-aged students, have enrolled at Minnesota West and will begin pursuing energy career education. ... What makes these energy programs appealing is that the jobs are here in southwest Minnesota and in the upper Midwest. The addition of these new programs will create immediate career education opportunities for students."

Those interested in the programs may contact Carol Hegna, the project's recruitment specialist, at .

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