Conversation with Jim Morgan

Director of the North American Wind Research and Training Center, Mesalands Community College


Could you give us a general overview of Mesalands’ Wind Energy Training program?

The Wind Energy Technology Program at Mesalands Community College provides real-world training experience, on the commercial-grade, 1.5MW GE wind turbine located on campus at the North American Wind Research and Training Center. The Wind Center provides state-of-the-art facilities for training qualified individuals in wind energy technology, as well as ample space to host cutting edge research in commercial wind energy technology. The training center is approximately 25,000-square-feet and includes both mechanical and electronic/electrical laboratories. Both laboratories have simulators to allow students to learn using a hands-on approach. The electrical laboratory contains computers that deliver computerized training as a complement to the laboratory exercises.

Which diplomas or degrees are offered?

Mesalands Community College offers three different wind energy training programs. The first is an Occupational Certificate program, which includes all of the wind technical courses in the first year for a total of 21 college credits. This is particularly attractive to prospective students that cannot attend the full 2-year program due to family concerns or financial difficulties. Re-entry into the degree program using these credits is at some later date is recommended and approved. The college also offers a one-year Applied Science Certificate in Wind Energy Technology. The Associate of Applied Science Degree in Wind Energy Technology is awarded after 2 years of study for a total of 60 credits.

Could you describe the instructional philosophy behind the program?

A key word for our instructional philosophy is “hands-on.” Although the curriculum was in place before the wind turbine was commissioned, the actual wind energy technology classes started in the Fall of 2008, the same semester the turbine was commissioned. That decision was indicative of wanting the students to have experience on a real operational industrial-size turbine. The turbine is always manually shutdown for training two to three times a week for students to train. That training is an integral part of their instruction as they climb and learn about the features and problems associated with the turbine. Troubleshooting is an industry priority and the students here do that on an industrial size wind turbine, not just out of a book.

What are some of the opportunities for students beyond classroom instruction?

The students usually take field trips to one of the local wind farms and also take field trips to a local transmission sub-station to see and learn about the different operational components required for a sub-station, which is an integral part of wind farms. The College owns a meteorological tower nearby that the students visit to learn about the devices on the tower. The data is collected by the wind program and students are exposed to the criteria and use the data in wind farm economics and strategies.

What are the career opportunities after graduation?

The graduates of the Wind Energy Technology Program are qualified as wind energy technicians and capable of both corrective and preventive maintenance on industrial wind turbines. Students in the degree program in their first year are invited to apply for internships with wind maintenance companies and if selected, can gain field experience and earnings prior to graduation. Since the training includes the elements of an industrial maintenance technician, graduates can transition to other technical fields.
We have several companies regularly requesting to hire our graduates and notifying them of employment opportunities. Starting this upcoming academic year, we will have a new Career Services on campus to help our graduates find future employment.

How much does the program typically cost?

Mesalands Community College was ranked 7th among the “Most Affordable Community Colleges” in the Nation, according to Mesalands provides federal and state financial aid for qualifying students, in the form of scholarships, grants, and work-study. The average cost of attendance for the Wind Energy Technology Program for one semester (15-credit hours) is approximately $2,500 per semester. This cost includes non-resident tuition, tuition, fees, and books.

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