Sitting Bull College Lassos the Wind
December 14, 2010
Renewable energy is a way for America to be independent for its energy needs, but it is cheaper, cleaner, limitless, and friendlier to the earth. There’s a side benefit to renewable energy as well—as a new growth sector, it is a source of skilled jobs.
Sitting Bull College (SBC) has initiated a one-semester long, 16-credit certificate program to meet the growing need in North Dakota for skilled workers in the wind energy field. Located on the windy Great Plains of southern North Dakota, SBC is perfectly situated, according to Dr. Koreen Ressler, vice president of academics. The area lies in what is known as a wind corridor, in the path of the jet stream blowing across the continent. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is discussing wind farming, and Dr. Ressler says another large wind farm is in the vicinity, 100 miles away.
The college itself is sold on green energy. It is installing its first wind turbine in the spring which will generate 100 kilowatts of energy for the campus’s Science and Technology Center, and the college is laying a transmission line with the capacity for installing a second turbine down the road, Dr. Ressler says. In addition, the college currently uses geothermal energy for many of its buildings.
Dr. Ressler says administrators were surprised at the demand for the program, which was piloted this fall. “Twenty-nine students enrolled,” she says, “and we were amazed because initially we had capped the program at 15 students. Enrollment kept growing.”
Two of the college’s maintenance personnel enrolled in the program so that they would be able to tend to the new wind turbine on campus. In addition, she says displaced workers from a wind turbine factory in the Bismarck area also enrolled to learn new skills. Many of the students are older and are interested in gaining new, marketable job skills.
The program, which will be offered again in the fall, includes computer simulated studies of how to maintain and repair wind turbines. It also incorporates tours to see wind farms in action. Next fall, after the installation of SBC’s new wind turbine, students will get hands-on opportunities to work with the turbine.
SBC also offers an associate’s degree program in energy technology in addition to the new program. Most of the coursework is geared towards power plant technology, because many of the workers are aging and there is an anticipated need for skilled workers in that market sector, Dr. Ressler says. The program also includes three courses in wind technology to provide students with a broad-based understanding of all energy technologies.