Educators from five areas colleges met at the College of Engineering-Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) Wednesday to begin a discussion on how combined planning and cooperation might be the best way to approach the educational needs for solar/sustainable energy in the Inland Empire.
The meeting was organized by the Southern California-Research Initiative for Solar Energy (SC-RISE), which was formed at UC Riverside as a broad initiative to facilitate the development and application of solar energy through research, technology and education.
This was the first gathering of area educators to explore what potential exists for collaboration by educational institutions to develop a joint strategy. At this meeting, it was recognized that there is a potential for careers and workplace development as acceptance of solar technologies and other sustainable energies in the region’s homes and businesses begin to take root.
Participants acknowledged the need for solar/sustainable energy training programs in Southern California, but pointed to high costs and low demand for such courses as barriers to the widespread adoption of these programs. One example cited by Jennifer Campbell, program coordinator of UCR’s Extension was a course leading to certification for photovoltaic system installers. At a cost of $3,800, too few enrolled, especially too few displaced workers looking for new career horizons. Now, the Extension is working with Renova Energy a leading provider of solar energy systems in the region, to provide a four-day boot camp in solar installations through UCR’s Palm Desert Campus to make it more affordable for students.
Renova President, Vincent Battaglia, said his firm only began the boot camp out of a need to identify and train its own workforce. The difficulty of predicting employment trends or even of identifying the current needs of the nascent industry makes other institutions interested in workforce development slow to act.
Each institution reviewed its own commitment to sustainable technologies in terms of new coursework, programs and inclusion in existing courses. For instance, California Baptist University offers a K-12 outreach program called “First Family in Science” which plants seeds for science careers and sustainable living years before college. CE-CERT itself offers a Global Climate and Sustainability Forum, funded by Bank of America, which serves to mentor local high school students working on science fair projects.
In general, the meeting suggested that there are a wide range of issues for educators that make continued conversations advisable. Pressure for institutions of higher education and the California Community College system to prepare a workforce in “green” jobs is growing, said participants. But the lack of a clear definition of “green” jobs, or reliable projections of their availability, make it difficult to develop a successful strategy.
“While the challenges in achieving comprehensive education in solar/sustainable energy are complex in nature; it has also presented a great opportunity for SC-RISE and its collaborators, to be in the forefront of moving forward the agenda for solar education and training in the Inland Empire area,” said Alfredo A. Martinez-Morales, Managing Director of SC-RISE, “this is a conversation that we ought to be having and that it will benefit everyone.”
Other participants in the discussion were: Matthew J. Barth, UCR Professor of Electrical Engineering and SC-RISE Faculty Director; Sid Burks, Dean of Business, Chaffey College; Anthony Donaldson, Dean of Engineering, California Baptist University; Larry McLaughlin, College of the Desert; Kary Snake, Renova’s Director of Education Programs; and John Tillquist, Dean of Economic Development, Riverside Community College District.