Redefining meaning of CMC’s ‘energy campus’ |

Redefining meaning of CMC’s ‘energy campus’

Ryan Hoffman
Jorge Rodriguez, a senior at Coal Ridge High School, works on the front steering of a solar powered car that he and classmates are building in a Career Academy class at Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle campus. Brooke, Esgar, another Coal Ridge senior, watched in the background.
Ryan Hoffman / Citizen Telegram |

You do not have to look very hard to notice the relationship between the energy industry and Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle campus. After all, it was contributions from the industry that helped build the current campus, which was completed in 2008.

Rifle remains CMC’s “energy campus,” but that definition is being retooled and expanded, said Carrie Besnette Hauser, president and CEO for the college.

Hauser recently sat down with Post Independent sister publication The Citizen Telegram while on a listening tour of CMC’s campuses.

“It’s a little bit of re-purposing, or perhaps I should say expanding what does energy campus mean,” she said. “And it’s sort of the whole spectrum of the green economy to sort of why this campus was ever born, and that’s more of the natural extraction economy. So the answer is, yes, we still are (the energy campus) and how you would define that is probably a little bit different.”

“We’re always going to be very connected to the quote ‘energy industry.’ At the same time I think it’s fair to say … it’s about alternative energy as well.”

Carrie Besnette Hauser
CMC President and CEO

Part of broadening the definition is directly tied to the economy. Steep declines in global oil and gas prices have slowed new production across Colorado, including Garfield County.

The number of active rigs in the county has dropped from eight in March 2014 to three now.

The fluctuation in the industry is nothing new, Hauser said, and while CMC will be connected to the oil and gas industry as long as the industry is present in the region, alternative energy is increasingly entering the fold.

For example, students can still earn a certificate in oil and gas technology, but the Rifle campus also offers an energy efficient facilities certificate, as well as the certification needed to become a basic solar photovoltaic installer.

“We’re always going to be very connected to the quote ‘energy industry.’ At the same time I think it’s fair to say … it’s about alternative energy as well,” Hauser said.

CMC Rifle Dean Rachel Pokrandt points out that the campus is constantly interacting with the industry, and those partners understand the interplay between fossil fuels and renewable energy.

“For them it’s not an either or. It’s very much an integrated part of the model and we’ll continue providing skilled workers to them for as long as they have operations here,” Pokrandt said.

Some of those skilled workers are getting a head start. On a recent Friday in a bustling shop room at the campus, students were hard at work building solar-powered remote-control vehicles.

All eight of the students currently attend local high schools. They were there taking classes as part of CMC’s Career Academy. The program gives students — many of whom currently attend high school in Garfield School District Re-2, which does not have school on Friday — the ability to earn credits that can go toward a certificate or degree.

For students like Jorge Rodriguez, a Coal Ridge High School senior who admits he does not really like going to school in the traditional sense, the Friday classes at CMC are an incentive to stick with education.

While Rodriguez plans on attending college, the training provides a backup plan in the event that his plans for college do not fully materialize.

Josh Taylor, an adjunct instructor who teaches the solar certificate class, said the goal is to get students to the level where they can assess a home and install solar panels. Working as an engineering consultant outside his duties at CMC, Taylor said he enjoys the class as much as his students.

The partnership with the local school districts is one example of CMC Rifle’s efforts to become more ingrained in the community, according to Pokrandt. In 2015 CMC opened its downtown Rifle Academic Center, which has directly led to a growing number of people seeking their GED.

“We’re trying to be everywhere, on parade floats and at events, and on community boards. … So I think that we are increasingly thought about as a first choice and a first option here for our students,” Pokrandt said.

As far as options available to students once they enroll at CMC Rifle, those will continue to be driven by needs in the community. Rifle is still the energy campus, but Pokrandt pointed out that science and medical-related fields account for the largest number of full-time enrolled students.

“I think we can provide a starting point for whatever career path or educational path a student is looking for,” Pokrandt said. “And just listening to the communities is always going to be the vital piece of that.”

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