Grant bolsters enrollment, programs at Mesalands

The use of the Wind Center of Excellence grant at Mesalands Community College's North American Wind Research and Training Center has increased the number of student enrollment and programs offered.

Since receiving the $523,751 grant in January 2011, Mesalands has been able to assist students in gaining the skills, the knowledge, and the hands-on training necessary to secure jobs in the growing wind energy field, said Natalie Gillard, vice president of academic affairs.

Gillard said the grant has also given the Wind Center at Mesalands the opportunity to meet the industry's need for highly skilled workers in the utility wind operations and maintenance industry. She said Mesalands has used these funds to develop short-term certification programs, including a one-semester program resulting in an Occupational Certificate in Wind Energy Technology.

"The grant covers the cost of tuition, fees, equipment, and supplies, for the students of the program," Gillard said.

Gillard said the program opens the college to a new group of students looking to gain education and enter the wind energy field promptly for a job.

Through this program, Mesalands has successfully graduated 40 students representing six states, said Kimberly Hanna, public relations director.

Hanna said currently there are 17 students enrolled in the certification program, though they expect there will be closer to 25 by the end of registration.

Hanna said a one of those graduates, Orlando Encinias, 43, of

Albuquerque, is now the site supervisor at the High Lonesome Wind Farm of New Mexico. She said Encinias graduated in May 2012 and now oversees eight full-time employees and 40 wind turbines.

"This program really helped me. I will put it this way; I don't think I would have ever gotten this position if I didn't go to that school," Encinias said.

Gillard said Encinias even hired a couple of students which he attended and completed the course with at Mesalands.

Hanna said other graduates of this program have obtained jobs throughout New Mexico, Texas and in Oklahoma.

Mesalands wind program is unique as they have a 1.5-megawatt GE wind turbine adjacent to the Wind Center, in which students receive realistic hands-on training and troubleshooting experience.

The turbine along with numerous courses available at the center has also encouraged graduates of the short-term programs to pursue a college degree.

Sam Adams 51, of King, N.C., graduated from this program in December 2012 and decided to continue his college education at Mesalands.

"I think this program was fast and furious," Adams said. "I liked the program because you can get your hands dirty and train on an actual turbine. I'm going to stay here at Mesalands and get my degree."

Adams said he planned to be a safety officer in the future, and one of the requirements for that job is to have a degree.

"I think it's great that we've had students out of the occupational certificate program come back and work towards getting into our two-year degree program in Wind Energy Technology," Dr. John Bauler, wind energy instructor at Mesalands said. "We had students coming in that only had a high school education and no other college experience and because of this type of certificate program, they were able to complete the course without any problems."

Hanna said the degree wind program at Mesalands has seen a 10 percent increase this year largely part to certification students electing to continue with their education.

Gillard said the college's turbine has also been used for research projects in the future advancement of wind energy and developing new partnerships with other state entities.

The College partnered with the Central New Mexico Workforce Training Center in Albuquerque, to provide a free course in the Introduction to Wind Energy to area students. This course included a day of hands-on training climbing the turbine at the Mesalands campus.

Hanna said Mesalands had also partnered with Clovis Community College to offer free tower rescue training at the Wind Center for their wind energy students.

"There were 10 Mesalands students and five CCC students that took this training," Hanna said.

The grant is the result of the State Energy Sector Partnership Program (SESP), as authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant awarded through the U.S. Department of Labor.

Mesalands is now accepting applications for students pursuing the occupational certificate in wind energy technology, though the grant ends in May.

The next class will start Jan. 22.

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