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Renewable Energy Technician Education: The Impact of International Faculty Collaboration

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Diverse Issues in Renewable Energy

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Mary Slowinski , M.Ed. CREATE NSF-ATE

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Mary Slowinski is an educator/consultant specializing in collaborative learning research and design. She received her M.Ed. in Learning Science from the University of Washington and is currently completing her PhD with a dissertation on communities of practice for educators. A co-PI on a National Science Foundation research grant focused on industry/education partnerships, she has worked extensively with the NSF's Advanced Technological Education program in a variety of consulting capacities including serving as learning coordinator for two international faculty learning projects, collaborating as an innovation coach to assist with scaling up innovations in technical education, developing curricular and learning materials based on learning science, and facilitating groups in a variety of settings. In addition, Mary is tenured faculty at Bellevue College where she chairs the Digital Media Arts program.

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Kenneth A. Walz Madison Area Technical College

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Dr. Walz completed his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in Environmental Chemistry and Technology, while conducting electrochemical research on lithium-ion batteries with Argonne National Laboratory and Rayovac. His studies also included research with the University of Rochester Center for Photo-Induced Charge Transfer.

Since 2003, Dr. Walz has taught chemistry and engineering at Madison Area Technical College, and he is also an adjunct professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin. He has served as teacher for the UW Delta Center for Integrating Research, Teaching and Learning, and has mentored several graduate students who completed teaching internships at the technical college while creating new instructional materials for renewable energy and chemical education. Dr. Walz is also an instructor with the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education and the K-12 Energy Education Program (KEEP), delivering professional development courses in energy science for K-12 school teachers.

Since 2005, Dr. Walz has been director of the Consortium for Education in Renewable Energy Technology (CERET). With funding from the National Science Foundation, CERET pioneered some of the first online renewable energy courses available in the United States. Through a series of Train the Trainer Academies, CERET has provided professional development for over 300 high school and community college instructors in photovoltaics and biofuel technology. These instructors have used CERET content and pedagogy to deliver their own renewable energy programs in over 40 U.S. States and Territories.

Over the past eight years, Dr. Walz has led multiple groups of study abroad students engaged in renewable energy service learning projects in Central America. With funding from the U.S. Department of Education and Department of State, Dr. Walz created the Renewable Energy for International Development class that provided the backbone for the formation of the Community Colleges for International Development Network (CCSDN). Instructors from twenty-four U.S. colleges have participated in study abroad immersion experiences led by Dr. Walz, and these activities have resulted in numerous new study abroad programs at two-year campuses across the United States. As a result of this effort, CCSDN recently received the prestigious Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education.

Dr. Walz is an alumnus of the Department of Energy Academies Creating Teacher Scientists (DOE ACTS) Program, and he spent three summers as a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducting research in renewable fuels and electrochemical materials. He continues his work with the NREL outreach office, serving as an instructor for the Summer Renewable Energy Institute for middle and high school teachers. Dr. Walz has been recognized as Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and as the Energy Educator of the Year by the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education.

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Kathleen Alfano College of the Canyons

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Kathleen Alfano has a Ph.D. from UCLA and has served as the Director of the California Consortium for Engineering Advances in Technological Education (CREATE) based at College of the Canyons since 1996. She directs and is Principal Investigator for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) CREATE Renewable Energy Center of Excellence. As Director of CREATE, she is involved in efforts across the United States and internationally to define and implement credit technician curricula in many areas of renewable energy, including wind, solar, geothermal, and energy efficiency. She has served as a NSF Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education. She also was part of the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration working group that developed the Renewable Energy Competency Model ( Dr Alfano also served as the only community college representative on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Workforce Trends in the U.S. Energy and Mining Industries which released their report in March 2013

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Renewable Energy Technician Education: The Impact of International Faculty Collaboration

Preparing technicians for the renewable energy sector is a multifaceted challenge for educators, especially those charged with workforce preparation at the nation’s two-year colleges. Rapid technological advances, shifting economic policies, environmental research results, and even ideological debates actively shape and influence the demands and expectations for this sector’s workforce, all of which impacts the development and implementation of technician training programs. The need for industry involvement and workplace-based learning also presents challenges for educators of any discipline. The question becomes not only what do we teach students to do, but also how do we effectively do so? In addition, calls for increased international competency in U.S. college graduates and the global nature of the renewable energy industry requires an exploration of how to incorporate a global perspective in STEM curricula, and how best to develop faculty to make these changes to existing teaching practices. To understand how other nations have met similar challenges and to expand awareness of the global renewable energy sector, a cohort of accomplished renewable energy educators from across the United States, representing a mix of disciplines, institutional roles and experience levels, undertook two learning exchanges to Australia/New Zealand (2013) and Germany/Denmark (2014). Funded by the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education Program, the learning exchanges provided opportunities for the participants to meet with technical educators, visit teaching labs, review industry partnerships, talk with policy makers and government representatives, and to share knowledge and best teaching practices.

Formative assessments completed by the participants during the projects’ duration indicated that these exchanges expanded their knowledge of renewable energy advances, technologies and issues both in the U.S. and abroad, and also influenced their teaching, curriculum development, and academic community engagement. The research objectives for this study, paper, and subsequent panel discussion, are to present a summation of the lasting influence of these international experiences. Data was collected utilizing survey methodology to measure the extended impact of the experience and also to describe participants’ perceived value of various learning activities. Educator rankings of the most valuable aspects of the international experiences provide important insights for others who are seeking to create similar international faculty development programs in the STEM disciplines.

Slowinski, M., & Walz, K. A., & Alfano, K. (2016, June), Renewable Energy Technician Education: The Impact of International Faculty Collaboration Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26073

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