Where can environmental students get the training they need for green jobs? A big part of Getting to GREENR is the profiles we’ll be creating of colleges, universities and institutions that exemplify excellence in environmental education. We’ll be talking to students, professors and industry professionals about the skills students need as they head green workforce — and where to get them.
For our first profile, I spoke with Dr. John Galiotos, director of the Energy Institute at Houston Community College Northeast.
Back in the early 2000s – long before the Energy Institute was a reality – Dr. John Galiotos saw a need in the field of energy education that had to be met. Though it had long been one of the country’s energy capitals, Houston was a major American city that lacked an educational center to meet the needs of the world’s growing energy workforce. Poised with a white board and a dry erase marker – and with an audience of few individuals from the American Chemical Society and Exxon Mobil – Galiotos began a chain of events intended to remedy this problem. His vision culminated in the creation of HCC’s Energy Institute.
Designed to be a one-stop educational hub focused on the needs of today’s energy industry, the Energy Institute makes HCC one of the nation’s few community colleges that provides training opportunities for those who want to enter the energy workforce. Students at the Energy Institute can study a broad array of energy-related topics, including conventional energy, green energy, bio-energy and digital energy.How do these specific fields relate to sustainability and the environment? According to Dr. Galiotos – now the director of the Energy Institute – digital energy studies help students learn to manage and investigate conventional energy data and make predictions about the state of the world energy situation in future years. Digital energy could be a good fit for students interested in careers that promote responsible energy use and aid in the search for new energy sources.
Or students with an interest in green energy can study and complete hands-on training for careers in solar, wind or thermal energy. Texas, for example, has more wind turbines than any other state in the U.S. Not only are well-trained individuals needed to design, produce and maintain these elements of the state’s huge wind energy industry, but students with skills as educators and marketers are needed promote the industry and educate the public about its benefits.
In terms of solar energy, Energy Institute students have access to public outreach opportunities like a completely self-sustainable, solar-powered mobile trailer, available to Energy Institute students as part of its membership in the Texas Renewable Energy Education Consortium. A vehicle like the solar trailer – which, according to Dr. Galiotos, remained fully powered and connected to satellite internet after the devastation of Hurricane Ike – can help students promote awareness about alternative energy sources. Other opportunities like continuing education classes on topics such as weatherization help students assist the community in becoming more energy efficient.
Another perk of energy studies at HCC? In order to get its graduates into the workforce as fast as possible, the institute collaborates with community and industry partners, offering internships to students and externships to faculty. Internships give students real-life experience in their field of energy interest and externships send instructors out into the industry to glean up-to-date, practical knowledge of energy workplaces, insuring that their students are getting training that’s as current as possible.
Though the vision for the Energy Institute began in Houston, Dr. Galiotos insists that the training offered there isn’t just for locals. “The Energy Institute is for anyone,” he stresses, “Louisiana, Oklahoma, Michigan, anywhere.” When I ask him why students come to the Energy Institute, he makes a point to mention that most of its students are highly self-motivated and seem to have been drawn to energy training and education by their own curiosity. They see the need that Galiotos saw almost a decade ago – and they’re ready to fill it. This kind of drive, according to Galiotos, can make great things happen, especially in tough economic times. “Collaborations bring success and solution,” he says. “Need is the mother of all inventions and out of it people develop their own intuition and create miracles.”
Rachel Harkai is a freelance writer who studied environmental science and creative writing at the University of Michigan. In addition to writing for local and national publications Rachel currently works as a Writer-in-Residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Project.