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PCC's solar, renewable energy initiatives brighten

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The governor of Oregon – Ted Kulongoski – has made renewable energy or “green” jobs a priority as part of Oregon’s economic recovery. Portland Community College has been on the forefront in working with solar and wind companies to create training for their new job force that will aid his goal, especially as Oregon becomes a hotbed for solar and renewable energy firms.

On the workplace training end, PCC is active in providing tailored courses to better serve German giant SolarWorld AG, which asked the college to develop a train-the-trainer program for their maintenance technicians. The class trained 18 SolarWorld technicians on how to be effective trainers; learning the company’s technical training philosophy; how to do on-the-job-peer training; and understanding adult learning styles.

“It has enabled these folks to know how to be a trainer and given them all of the basic skills and fundamentals,” said Jim Talty, training manager for the company’s Hillsboro plant. “This is great training for new employees.”

Also, the workplace training team regularly places students from its manufacturing foundations course into another solar company – Solaicx.

Microelectronics Program teams with SolarWorld, too

To capitalize on these relationships and meet the growing employment opportunities, the PCC Microelectronics Technology program, based at the Rock Creek Campus (17705 N.W. Springville Road), worked with SolarWorld to create an associate’s degree in solar voltaic technology of 95 credits and its adjoining certificate of 13 credits. Not only does it give graduates employment opportunities with SolarWorld, but also with Intel Corp., SpectraWatt, Enxco, Solaicx and XsunX.

“Both options are very popular among students,” said Dorina Cornea-Hasegan, a microelectronics instructor and department chairperson. “Classes are almost full every term and prospective students keep calling the Microelectronics Technology Department showing a lot of interest in the field.”

Like with the training, SolarWorld was closely involved from the beginning in the evolution phases of the new option. For example, the most specialized class, about crystal growing, is taught by one of the company’s employees.

“SolarWorld offers tours and job interviews to our students every term,” she said. “The partnership validates our position of being an efficient link between the community and the new green industry that is so promising in this state.”

Renewable Energy Technology program

With the impending construction of a huge wind farm and big interest in alternative energy, the college’s Electronic Engineering Technology program, based at the Sylvania Campus (12000 S.W. 49th Ave.), has responded with a new option to its associate’s degree – the Renewable Energy Systems two-year degree and a one-year certificate option. It prepares technicians to work in the maintenance of all renewable energy systems, including solar, fuel cell and wind manufacturing industries. The program has a commitment from Vestas, the wind energy firm, to advise on training.

“This is the most comprehensive renewable energy systems training offering in the state of Oregon,” said Sanda Williams, instructor in Electronic Engineering Technology and the program’s chairperson. “Graduates can work in any of the areas and we have classes that they can take at different campuses. We are dedicated to serving the community and industry in the best possible way to direct students to jobs that remain local. We are excited about what we’ve done here.”

Williams said 40 students are enrolled in the renewable energy program and, based on recent inquiries, she expects a flood of students in the fall.

“We will meet soon to plan on how to accommodate the growth,” said Williams, whose program officially started in fall 2008. “This is not unusual, since many renewable energy programs have experienced great enrollment growth. The industry is highly supportive of our efforts to create a qualified workforce that will address its needs in the renewable energy expansion process. As we all know, renewable energy efforts are the hope of our nation for recovering from the current economical recession.”

William Cervarich, 27-year-old resident of St. Johns in Portland, is in the program because he got laid off from a title company in the summer of 2008, a victim of the housing collapse. He’s looking to retrain into the renewable energy technology field.

“For a while, I looked for a job, but I also investigated coming back to school at the same time,” Cervarich said. “I decided to go to PCC because its program is mostly transferable to universities who offer four-year degrees and offers a degree that should enable employment in the field after just two years. For me, getting back to work and simultaneously having the option to continue my education was crucial.”

It’s easy being green

Besides solar and wind, PCC has plenty of other avenues students can take to get into the green industry. The Building Construction Technology program has developed courses and initiatives to teach sustainable building techniques. The Automotive Service department is developing hybrid electric training for its degree-seeking students. The Community Education program, one of the largest non-credit programs in the country, offers green and solar courses.

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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