Andrew McMahan is the Department Chair for the Department of Sustainability Technologies at North Carolina’s Central Carolina Community College. Like many in the renewable energy industry, McMahan’s initial passion for renewables came from a combination of his interest in science and nature, a personal desire to minimize his impact on our plant’s resources, and several serendipitous life experiences.
McMahan’s first experience in education was at Guilford Technical Community College in 2005 where he developed and taught an Introduction to Biofuels continuing education course. In 2007 McMahan was approached by Central Carolina Community College to lead an effort to create an Associate Degree program for North Carolina’s emerging biofuels industry. Unfortunately, McMahan faced a difficult realization when the state’s biofuels industry didn’t experience the growth it had forecast. “Ultimately, it turned out we were doing a really good job training people for jobs that essentially weren’t materializing, so at that point, we decided to close the biofuels program and reassess how to more effectively provide training for the renewable energy industry” he says.
With lessons learned from his experience with the biofuels program, McMahan led a statewide effort in North Carolina to align renewable energy training with existing legacy training programs like Industrial Maintenance, Electrical Technology, and Engineering Technology to allow students to gain the skills needed for success in the renewable energy industry, while also giving them employment options in other fields. McMahan explains, “Technicians in the renewable energy industry need to have an understanding of fundamental skills like electrical wiring, workplace safety, and building codes, but these skills are also transferable to other industries, if need be, and help to increase the employment opportunities for our graduates.”
The result of his efforts is the current CCCC Sustainability Technologies program, which incorporates renewable energy education and high performance construction training, as well as coursework that covers social, economic, and environmental issues related to sustainability.
“In addition to foundational coursework, our students take technical design classes like Photovoltaic, Energy Use Analysis, and Building Science, so they are exposed to both technical and analytical knowledge,” he says. Students also get the chance to apply what they learn in the classroom though a number of hands-on experiences like installing renewable energy systems on campus and building a 650 sq foot house every year. The high efficiency house is used as a teaching tool in multiple classes throughout the academic year, then auctioned off to the public with the funds going back to support the program.
But perhaps what’s most unique about the program isn’t the fact that the college has been teaching sustainability related education for over 20 years, but the fact that it’s been able to make the connection between food production, energy, and shelter.
“The ability to have our Sustainable Farming, Sustainable Technologies, and Construction Technologies programs all housed together and our students interacting makes for a more robust experience for our students than if we didn’t have all three of those programs,” says McMahan.
In the end, McMahan hopes that whichever direction the industry goes, he and the Sustainability Technologies Department can continue to educate students about the importance of renewable energy and continue to help them reach their career goals.