Transformer will give hands on experience

Amanda Cook

The NMU engineering and technology department will be installing a mock electricity substation adjacent to the Jacobetti Center. The first and largest piece of equipment, a 13-ton transformer, was installed on Wednesday, Sept. 29.

The transformer arrived on the back of a flatbed truck, and was lifted onto a concrete platform with a crane.  Several workers attached cables to the large piece of machinery and helped orient it so it would be properly in place. Surrounding the outdoor platform are several others, which will eventually hold circuit breakers, reclosures, and regulators. Project coordinators hope the rest of the equipment for the lab is installed by the end of October.

A model of an electricity transformer was installed outside the Jacobetti center on Wednesday, Sept. 29. The transformer will serve as a hands-on learning module for students in NMU’s electrical technology program. // Ashley Wiggins/NW

The mock substation will be used specifically for a new associate degree offered at Northern. The two-year program falls under the electrical technology major, with a power technician concentration. The new equipment will join an indoor lab filled with other high-tech electrical devices. Students will learn troubleshooting and maintenance procedures that they will encounter on the job.

“It’s all very hands-on…. It provides a lab for students in the program…to operate equipment just like they’re going to see out in the real world,” said Mike Rudisill, head of the NMU engineering technology department.

Bill Haupt, adjunct instructor of engineering technology, will be using the equipment for his classes. Haupt is excited to use the new substation as a teaching tool.

“This will give the students a realistic and meaningful hands-on experience so they can take their theory in testing substation equipment and put it to practical use with the newest state-of-the-art equipment.” Haupt calls the project “a culmination of a lot of effort by a lot of people.”

Most parts of the substation are used, and have been donated by several local electric power services: the Upper Peninsula Power Company, American Transmission Company, Wisconsin Public Service, and Systems Control. A $673,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) made the acquisition of the equipment possible.

The funding from the DOE is a workforce development grant. Workforce development grants are given to programs that help ensure that the DOE has a constant source of highly skilled workers. As part of the grant, NMU has pledged twenty $1,000 scholarships to students in the power technician program who are performing well and making positive progress.

Kyle Robertson, a junior going into the power technician program, was there to watch the installation of the transformer. “I was going to be a math and science teacher, but I heard about this program opening and I couldn’t pass it up,” said Robertson, whose father and brother are both electricians. He had many reasons for going after the new degree. “The big thing was the program is getting so much support, and job opportunities are really good,” said Robertson. He also listed the hands-on work and scholarship money as benefits.

Rudisill and Haupt encourage students to explore power technician career opportunities. Jobs are available in all areas of the electrical power generation, transmission, and distribution system and have starting wages between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.

“Students going through this program are entering a field that is very demanding and very rewarding,” said Haupt.