Presque Isle community college attracts attention of national green energy organization

Posted Aug. 15, 2011, at 8:11 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A representative from an organization that helps support community colleges in building the green economy spent the day at Northern Maine Community College on Monday. She said she was returning to the Washington, D.C.-based organization impressed and dedicated to forming a relationship with the Presque Isle educational institution.

Candy Center, a representative of the Sustainability Education and Economic Development Center, or SEED, toured the community college and talked to Aroostook County college and economic development officials during her visit.

SEED was created by the American Association of Community Colleges and to help community colleges create an educated work force with the ecoAmerica skills to fuel industry and community demand for clean energy and the green economy. The center functions to support institutions such as NMCC in accomplishing that goal on a national scale.

Three years ago, NMCC stepped into the field of alternative energy and hasn’t looked back. In September 2008, Northern Maine Community College launched its wind power technology program, among the first of its kind in New England. Students in the program learn to operate, repair and maintain wind turbines.

The popular program has been an asset both for the college, which saw a boost in enrollment, and the first students, who graduated in May.

The program also attracted the attention of donors, who provided funding for NMCC’s new Northern Maine Center for Excellence in Alternative Energy Training and Education.

The new center has state-of-the art equipment, much of it supplied by donors, and a 10-kilowatt residential wind turbine was installed last week on campus to serve as the latest teaching tool.

On Monday, Center saw firsthand NMCC’s efforts to develop curriculum in the area of alternative energy. Center said she would be compiling the information she gathered into a profile and case study of the campus that will be featured nationally through SEED.

“Northern Maine Community College came to the attention of SEED because of the wind power technology program,” Center said Monday afternoon. “From what I have seen, it is a wonderful program, and it is neat to see how a number of community and economic development groups have worked together to promote this program and advance all of the resources available in Aroostook County.”

Center noted that NMCC took the initiative to train people to work on the towers and advance green energy after wind power took hold in Maine. The college is putting out a skilled work force trained in the field of alternative energy, she said, and the NMCC students in turn are doing education of their own before they graduate. The college created an energy task force in 2008, conducted an energy audit and developed a conservation plan for the campus that allowed NMCC to reduce its energy consumption by 10 percent in one year. Wind power technology graduates said in May that their studies also forced them to take a closer look at their own energy uses both at home and in the NMCC residence halls, and propelled them to shut off more lights, unplug more electronics and think more about recycling.

Center said she plans to help NMCC connect with other colleges across the nation that have garnered the attention of SEED.

“This will connect them to people who are doing similar work,” she said Monday. “I think that NMCC officials also would be good mentors for other colleges that are exploring ways to integrate alternative energy into the curriculum. We’d like NMCC students in alternative energy programs to be able to access conferences and other events that SEED offers.”

College officials said the visit from a SEED representative was an honor for them, as the organization will help the college highlight its efforts along with other top two-year schools in the nation who are focused on developing curriculum in the area of alternative energy.

SEED focuses on community colleges because they are considered the “engines of higher education” in the United States, according to its website. Community colleges are the fastest growing sector of U.S. higher education, according to SEED, serving 12 million students. Ninety percent of the U.S. population lives within 25 miles of a community college.

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