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Energy education powers up

8/12/2012

By JUDY SHERARD

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Online workforce training classes for community and technical college students enrolled in energy programs could be a reality soon.

Fort Hays State University's Energy Network of Education and Training -- EnergyNET -- which is coordinating the development of the programs, was created by the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Kansas Board of Regents. FHSU was awarded a $1.6 million grant in 2010 for the project.

The goal is to help the technical and community colleges that have energy programs, get them online, using FHSU Virtual College's expertise in distance and online learning, said Mike Michaelis, director of EnergyNET. Tim Cossaart is assistant director and Sabrina William is the online course developer.

For instance, Flint Hills Technical College has a program teaching power plant operation that focused in their own area.

"What we do is help them take their program, expand it, put it online, so that anybody in the state can have access to it," Michaelis said.

Energy industry research shows a large drain on the workforce in the coming years, and most of the western Kansas energy plants hire local employees. Sometimes, if students have to move to attend school, they don't return.

"We have that problem in western Kansas of decreasing population, so this is a way to combat that and fill some of those jobs," Michaelis said.

The online classes won't be just textbooks or a video lecture; they also include animation of anything that can make the concept easier to understand, he said.

Besides programs dealing with traditional energy, EnergyNET is developing a wind energy technology education program.

"With all the wind farms going up, (they'll) need a lot of people to work on those turbines," Michaelis said.

They also are working with North Central Kansas Technical College, developing online classes in commercial drivers licenses, underground technology and heavy equipment.

Not all of the classes can be offered online, and students will have to "prove that what you learned online, you can do physically."

For line worker programs, that means they still harness up and climb a pole to set a crossarm. Students who want to work on turbines will have to harness up and climb the tower, repel and show they can repair a blade.

Altogether, 174 credit hours of classes will be animated and online for schools that offer them.

"It's going to be pretty amazing when it's all said and done," Michaelis said. "What we're doing here makes it accessible to everybody ... whenever you're ready to do it."