New degree offers opportunities
Colorado Mountain College
Luis Pena was just 3 years old when he moved with his family from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to Parachute. Growing up amidst Colorado’s Western Slope oil and gas production meant the industry has always had a familiar presence in his life.
So when it came time for Pena, who just turned 20, to think beyond high school, working in the energy industry was naturally intriguing to him.
“Closing in on high school graduation, I knew I wanted to do something with engineering,” he said. “I was really interested in petroleum engineering but I didn’t have the sufficient funds to attend a university.”
A phone call from Colorado Mountain College offering Pena a full scholarship sealed the deal.
“I took the opportunity and started looking at programs at CMC, and that’s when I came across the applied engineering program,” he said. “I started taking classes to see how I liked it, and I’m now almost done with the two-year program.”
Today, holding down a full-time job and maintaining top grades, Pena is getting an Associate of Applied Science degree, applied engineering technician, with an emphasis in oil and gas. However, that’s not the only field that’s available to graduates of the program.
Brady Hart also is a student in the college’s applied engineering program in Rifle. The 22-year-old from Lafayette, Georgia, said he took a gap year between high school and college, moving to Colorado more for snowboarding than for studying.
But his interest in automation and programmable logic controllers, plus a search online, led him to CMC and the idea of pursuing a two-year associate degree in applied engineering. Now he’s thinking of continuing on to earn a Bachelor of Applied Science degree.
“I have about two years left if I go for my bachelor’s,” Hart said. “I want to work in automation and control.”
Applied engineering opens doors
The college’s applied engineering program is a relatively new addition to the courses of study that focus on energy and industry at the CMC campus in Rifle. With applied engineering, graduates such as Pena and Hart can prepare for work in oil and gas, waste and water treatment, pharmaceuticals, power and electric plants and even breweries and beverage manufacturing. And with the degree, graduates are qualified to work with teams that plan, analyze and control production in a variety of applications.
“The applied engineering technician degree has a broad appeal,” said Rachel Pokrandt, dean of the CMC campus in Rifle. “Students are able to use its applications in multiple industries.”
Guiding these future technicians is Stewart Clark, a member of the college’s faculty in Rifle. After working seven years as a production supervisor for Marathon Oil, Clark now teaches students how to refine raw materials — whether they’re oil, natural gas, beverage ingredients or water — and separate and mix these elements while monitoring the process that makes it happen.
Pena knows the value of being taught by faculty members such as Clark.
“Several of the professors in the program come from the industry themselves so they know what employers are looking for,” Pena said. “They let us know what that is or they stress that material more, which is good for us students to understand. It gives us an advantage.”
Hart agrees that the program’s real-world approach is helpful in understanding concepts.
“The program as a whole is very hands-on and interesting,” Hart said. “I really enjoy going to class every day.”
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