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Need for Clean Air Helps Launch PCC HVAC Degree

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Wanted: Specialized Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) professionals fast!

That’s the message Portland Community College heard loud and clear when area high-tech business leaders and others came forward in search of training for current and new employees in the facilities maintenance arena. The focus of the curriculum will be on the operation of the highly intricate HVAC equipment running in semiconductor industry "clean rooms" and in other facilities with needs for sterile air, such as hospitals.

PCC, with the help of businesses such as Intel, Wacker Siltronic, The Oregon Zoo, Carrier Corporation, several local hospitals and others created a two-year Facilities Maintenance Technology degree. The degree program will officially start this fall, with classes at the PCC Rock Creek Campus and the college’s Southeast Center.

Tom Duncan, the PCC department chair for the Industrial Occupations at PCC, and an instructor in the program, said the collaborative effort made the degree program come together that much quicker.

"Intel was really the driving force behind it," said Duncan on the push to start a facilities maintenance degree program at PCC. "But everyone from local hospitals to Wacker (Siltronic) and others were involved. It was a pretty wide representation of industry."

Representatives from companies such as ServiceMaster, Northwest Natural Gas, Wacker Siltronic, Intel, Oregon Health Sciences University and more banded together to provide input and technical expertise on an advisory committee during the curriculum-shaping process.

Some of those companies are even providing instructors for the program. This advisory committee was created and the curriculum formed with the help of a grant from the Oregon Economic Development Department.

Duncan, for one, found himself in a 10-week training course at Intel that included following around company technicians to learn the intricacies and importance of keeping the air clean in the chip manufacturer’s clean rooms.

"That air in there has to be much cleaner than a surgical operating room," explained Intel’s Tim Heidenreich, who manages the HVAC training program at Intel. "Any little foreign particles damage the chips. That’s why (trained HVAC personnel) is so critical."

Heidenreich said this degree will give companies access to a "pipeline" of trained personnel who understand HVAC systems. He said the business representatives on the advisory board for the degree program saw to it that the curriculum will be up-to-date and relevant for current and future facilities maintenance employees.

"We all had input on how we wanted this thing to go," he said. "We wanted our current techs to have the opportunity to improve on their skills and we want to be able to hire trained new employees. So it really is a two-pronged approach."

Now that the planning and shaping of the program is behind him, PCC’s Duncan is eager to start teaching facilities maintenance to a crop of new students and business professionals.

"This has been a long time coming," Duncan said. "It’s exciting to see it all come to fruition. I’m looking forward to it."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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