GOP gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl tours Northeast Applied Technology Campus during visit to Sterling – Sterling Journal-Advocate
Northeastern Junior College’s wind technology program hopes to double in size over the next few years.
That’s one of the messages Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl heard Thursday during a visit to NJC’s Applied Technology Campus.
Ganahl toured the wind technology facility, hearing about the kind of hands-on projects students do to equip them for careers not just in wind power, but in a variety of fields based on their work in electronics, mechanics, and hydraulics, according to the faculty program.
“It’s a solid, project-based program,” said Jason Hazlett, department chair and one of the instructors.
There are hundreds of wind technology jobs available across the country, he said, although some students choose other fields because they prefer to stay closer to home. Being a wind technician may require travel to construction sites for a month or more.
Ganahl’s tour included a look at the program’s model nacelle, which houses the gearbox, generator and other equipment atop a wind turbine. The nacelle was built by the students of the program using parts and equipment donated by various wind energy companies. Hazlett explained the various components and tasks a technician might have to perform inside the hub, as well as maintenance and repairs that would require a worker to climb to the top of the nacelle and access the hub where the turbine blades are fixed.
The program is very dependent on donations, which have come in the form of funding as well as materials and equipment. In recent years, NextEra has provided donations to help the program expand into solar technology as well. Hazlett said they’re not there yet — the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed progress — but those classes are coming soon. He noted that new wind developments are often associated with solar, which means the work is likely to be diverse in the future.
During the tour, Ganahl was also able to see the trailer for the program which serves as a mobile workshop to deliver one to two day workshops in rural secondary schools. Although these students cannot easily travel to the NJC campus, the trailer allows instructors to introduce students to the program and show them some of the possibilities.
The trailer will also serve as a recruiting tool, with plans to take it to fairs and other events in the area, instructor Jason Winter said. He noted that they will be able to show videos showing what the program has to offer to visitors to the event.
The group also briefly toured the diesel technology store across from ATC, with chairman Michael White noting that the program has also received truck and equipment donations from local individuals and businesses that enable students to have practical experience. They are working to get electric and hybrid vehicles for students to work on.
White said the college is waiting to hear about a grant that will allow it to follow through on plans to expand ATC’s facilities, which will provide more space for existing programs as well as the addition of new programs.
Ganahl, who is currently regent at the University of Colorado, said she thinks it’s important for high school students to be aware of the opportunities offered by programs like those at NJC. Too often she thinks the message is that students should pursue a four-year degree, and that’s not the right fit for everyone, she said.
White said that in the NJC service area, the program is highly visible, with activities such as FFA conferences bringing hundreds of students to campus where they tour the facilities. But he agreed that more could be done to raise awareness in other parts of the state as well as outside of Colorado.
About half of the students in ATC programs come from outside NJC’s service area, Hazlett said.