As the United States is increasing its amount of alternative energy usage, Northern is matching the trend as NMU’s alternative energies minor has increased its enrollment this semester.
“Through advertising and different articles, we’ve gotten good enrollment, and things have gotten better this semester,” said Mike Rudisill, department head of engineering technology.
Since the start of the program, about five years ago, the alternative energies minor has shown small increases in enrollment each semester.
“When we were first starting out, we only had half the classes filled up,” Rudisill said. “We were only getting 10 students in our lower level classes.”
However, this semester, all the classes currently offered for the minor are either maxed out or almost full, according to Rudisill, doubling the class sizes from five years ago.
Northern’s alternative energy minor educates students about the theoretical and practical uses of alternative energies starting with basic electricity and ending with circuit construction. Students also learn about the history and progress of energy so far. However, the program was actually designed to create a work force for the equipment that the new alternative energies required.
“Companies need technicians who are able to install and repair different equipment,” Daryl Kobie, current head of the Technical and Occupational Sciences department said. “We saw a need, and we filled it.”
Currently, there are six courses in the alternative energy minor: Intro to Electricity, Intro to Alternative Energies, Solar Power, Wind Power, Heating Systems II and Bioenergy. The two cornerstone courses, Wind Power and Solar Power, have accompanying labs to go with the class to give students hands-on training.
“This is a great time for students to see the equipment and touch them and see how it works,” said Deanna Pozega, teacher of the Solar Power class. “We have solar panels here that we can work on safely and take apart and run tests on. For our wind class, we have a wind turbine that we can do the same thing with.”
With the increase in student enrollment in the courses, NMU is thinking about expanding the program further to give more options in course selection. The six courses available for the minor add up to 20 credits, the minimum requirement to be considered a minor program. Most minors have 26-36 credits to allow students to pick courses to help specialize their learning process. Rudisill said that some chemistry and green building classes will most likely be added.
He said that there are also long-term goals for expansion.
“If we have the interest, (the alternative energies minor) could build up into an Associates program,” Rudisill said. “It’s hard to attract people with only a minor.”
Even though the curriculum adds up to only a minor, Northern is one of the few schools in the country with a program that focuses on newer alternative energies. According to CollegeBoard.com, there are no major programs that focus on multiple types of alternative energies in the Midwest.
In Michigan, Henry Ford Community College has a major for only Solar Power, while Ferris State and Schoolcraft Community College have Energy Systems majors where students focus on energy conservation.
“Some schools have high level research, but we run the applied sciences with it,” Kobie said. “Schools like Michigan Tech don’t even come close.”
The benefits of a program like this at Northern go beyond just educational value according to Rudisill.
“The minor also helps prove that Northern is a leader in the Midwest with green programs,” Rudisill said. “We’re not an engineering school, but this program, our chemistry courses and our LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) dorms, no one else has that.”
Because of the program’s unique features, alternative energies courses attract a wide range of students.
“We have a lot of engineering tech students, several environmental science majors, some physics and chemistry students, Heating Ventilation and Cooling students and a lot of construction majors,” said Pozega. “We even have some poli-sci and economics students take the courses. It’s beneficial for them to learn too, because the information can help them specialize.”
The solar panels and wind turbine are functional and do supply energy when they are up and running. The energy from this equipment is fed into the Jacobetti power system which then takes it into the main power grid. From there, the energy can go anywhere on campus. However, the energy from the equipment in the class is not enough to fully power the Jacobetti Center independently.
“We were wanting more solar panels to run the outlets in the Jacobetti Commons,” Kobie said. “It wouldn’t be a big thing, but it would be a nice qualitative result for the building.”
So far, the alternative energies minor has been financed without the help of grants. According to Rudisill, the minor is low in cost, besides some expenses for labs.
Even with expansion of the program, Rudisill believes the program will remain valuable for Northern.