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Chris Miller didn’t spend his whole school career training to become a teacher, although he admits he always wanted to be one. Instead, he spent a lot of his young life (“A past life,” he says with a chuckle) working as an automotive technician for General Motors. But making window and door lock switches just wasn’t cutting it for him.
“I always thought about wanting to be a teacher, and one day, I just decided that was it. I’m going to be a teacher,” he says — and he didn’t waste any time.
By 2010, the renewable energy program at Heartland Community College (HCC) was up and running.
“We wanted to structure our program to be as fundamental as possible — teaching core electrical technology and skills to get students into the solar area, wind area, building controls, or any number of emerging renewable, sustainable fields. That’s how we decided to get into it.”
Employers want to see that students really know the basics, according to Miller, especially in regions like Central Illinois where the renewable energy market is still emerging, and employer needs are not yet well defined.
This also poses some challenges for HCC. To maintain a program of viable size while meeting the needs of local industry, it is necessary to recruit and educate students who are interested in a variety of possible energy related career paths.
Miller has faced this test by keeping the program “very nimble.” HCC works with its industry advisory board to monitor and identify emerging trends in the industry, and then adjusts the curriculum and instruction accordingly.
Miller is confident that the renewable energy industry is only going to continue growing. With favorable economics, energy security, and environmental concerns, it seems that the program is poised well for the future. “These industries won’t be going away anytime soon,” says Miller.
In the meantime, Miller says he will continue to help guide students to family supporting careers that they can enjoy and be successful in.
“What do I see myself doing five years from now?” asks Miller. “The same thing. Hittin’ the fundamentals, being an enthusiastic and motivated instructor, and getting my students prepared and ready to go for the workforce.”