Colorado Mountain College rolls out new mobile energy learning lab

Stefanie Kilts
Colorado Mountain College
Chris Ellis, at right, an instrumentation instructor at Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle campus, explains the uses of one of the college’s new laboratory units, a solar and wind energy training system, at an open house July 23. The equipment, along with a mobile learning lab, was purchased through CMC’s $1.2 million share of a three-year federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Colorado Online Energy Training Consortium grant.
Stefanie Kilts / Colorado Mountain College |

RIFLE — The wheels on Colorado Mountain College’s mobile solar and instrumentation learning lab will soon be rolling as part of the college’s latest hybrid courses in integrated energy.

To celebrate the launch of the mobile lab, college faculty, staff and students, as well as representatives from companies and organizations such as Encana, Shell, Garfield County and the city of Rifle, gathered for tours in an open house at the college’s Rifle campus on July 23.

“The new courses and mobile lab will be beneficial for both brand-new students or someone who is looking for retraining for a new position,” said Nancy Genova, vice president at the Rifle campus. “We want to get people into the workforce as quickly as possible.”

The $145,000 mobile lab and compressed natural gas truck were purchased thanks to CMC’s $1.2 million share of a three-year federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Colorado Online Energy Training Consortium grant that was awarded last year. The truck was also supported by a donation of $11,000 from Encana.

Starting this spring the mobile lab will travel throughout Colorado, providing hybrid courses for students who can’t make it to the Rifle location. The courses will allow students to acquire certificates in instrumentation and solar and also apply the credits toward an associate of applied science degree in process technology.

“This will really help more students to learn about energy technology,” said Loretta Driskel, an instructional designer at the college who has been creating the hybrid courses for the mobile lab. A hybrid class, which combines in-person and online learning, provides access for students who otherwise might have not have it.

For example, she said, students in the Four Corners area may be taking the course, initially starting with the online portion. When they need the hands-on experience and required number of lab hours, the mobile lab can travel to their location and offer an extended three-day training session.

Job training

Rob Winn, the Rifle campus’ TAA grant coordinator, demonstrated the newest laboratory equipment at the open house, explaining that individual learning units — each slightly bigger than a large refrigerator — are mobile and can be wheeled in and out of the lab, allowing instructors to customize the classes. The new units allow students to be trained in AC/DC physics, motor drives with switches, circuits and sensors, and solar and wind.

“This grant has been hugely beneficial to our students,” Winn said, explaining that the grant has, in addition to providing for the truck and mobile lab, enabled the college to hire a career coach to help students complete the program and find employment, as well as a full-time instructional designer to develop the courses.

In addition, a new donation of $15,500 from Shell Exploration and Production Co. has allowed the college to purchase two more pieces of equipment for the mobile lab, as part of the company’s outreach in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Shell is proud to continue our support of CMC’s process technology program by funding the Mobile Process Technology Lab and other STEM-related activities,” said Carolyn Tucker of Shell. “CMC has done a tremendous job building its technology and instrumentation programs, and Shell is excited to play a part in enhancing student learning with this innovative, hands-on approach.”

Shawn Brennan, plant manager at Enterprise Products’ Meeker Gas Plant, said the college’s integrated energy technology program and the mobile lab will be a huge asset for his employees, many of whom live in Meeker, Rangely and Grand Junction and don’t have access to training.

Brennan, who is also chairman of the college’s integrated energy advisory committee, said the new courses will also be highly beneficial for prospective employees and those who are seeking a higher-paid position, adding that jobs in electrical and instrumentation fields require more technical skill and thus pay more.

“CMC’s programs support training for the kinds of employees we want to hire, or for our current employees to get retraining so they can get a better-paid position,” he said.

Integrated energy technology has become the flagship program of Colorado Mountain College’s campus in Rifle, said Genova, and she said the mobile lab will be another great asset.

“We already had strengths in the instrumentation and solar fields so it all fell into place,” she said. “It’s a good fit because we really think of Rifle as the energy campus.”

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