A Zondits Interview: Tunxis Community College Offers Energy Management Program

Ali Jackman, ERS for Zondits, September 6, 2018

Zondits recently sat down with Eric Gribin, Program Coordinator of the Energy Management Program at Tunxis Community College, to discuss how their program is shaping the clean energy workforce of the future. The Associate of Applied Science Degree in Energy Management is a unique two-year workforce training program that prepares students for rewarding careers in the “clean energy” sector.

What was the inspiration to start the Energy Management Program?

In 2009, five Connecticut community colleges were awarded a SOAR (Sustainable Operations, Alternative and Renewable Energy Initiative) grant. Norwalk Community College hired me to develop the BEST (Building Efficiency & Sustainable Technology) 1-year certificate program. We focused on sustainable building, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. During my first semester at NCC, I discovered a unique 2-year degree program at Lane Community College in Eugene, OR, that focuses on energy analysis for commercial buildings. I knew that a program like this needed to exist near New York, Boston, Hartford, etc. So I decided to work to develop a commercial building energy degree program here in Connecticut.


Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the program to date?

In the spring of 2014, we convened an industry advisory group to discuss workforce needs in the commercial energy sector. The consensus among these 16 employers was that a 2-year degree program and courses in energy management could be a great resource for energy sector employers in Connecticut, and that the demand for workers was going to remain strong for a long time.

Since then, there have been a number of industry surveys that project a widening workforce gap in the clean energy sector. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has supported our efforts to help meet these workforce shortages. In 2016, the utilities included our program in their Conservation & Load Management Plan under Workforce Development. Funding from both DEEP and the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board makes this unique program possible.

After taking the curriculum through various academic approvals, including accreditation of the program by the Board of Regents, we began classes at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, CT, in the fall of 2016. Since then, 43 students have taken one or more courses in the Energy Management Program. This fall, we have 19 students enrolled in our courses.

The program features 13 “Energy Core” courses and 7 general education courses. Our Industry Advisory Board has grown to 30 people who provide expertise, instruction, internships, and jobs for our students. This past May, we handed out our first degree and certificate diplomas to students. All our graduates are gainfully employed in the energy efficiency field.


How is the program structured? And how do students apply/enroll?

The Energy Management Program is at Tunxis Community College. Students can apply to Tunxis either online at www.tunxis.edu or at the college. Students then contact me directly to discuss their course selections if they do not meet the pre-requisites.

Adult students enroll in our energy courses, certificates, and the degree. Most of these students meet the pre-requisites with prior college credits or their industry experience. We do get some adult students who must pass the pre-req. courses, and they usually find that these courses are engaging and beneficial. About one third of our students are adults.

Undergraduate students must successfully pass a number of first-year pre-requisite courses – like English Comp., Introductory Algebra, Technical Writing, Excel Spreadsheets, Introductory Physics, Blueprint Reading and Environmental Systems (building systems) – before taking our energy “core” courses in the following:

  • Commercial HVAC Systems and Analysis
  • Energy Efficiency Methods
  • Energy Control Strategies
  • Applied Renewable Energy for Businesses and Residences
  • Lighting Fundamentals and Applications
  • Energy Investment Analysis
  • Industrial Energy Systems
  • Commercial Energy Use Analysis and Simulations
  • Energy Accounting
  • Energy Internship

Upon successful completion of the AAS Degree in Energy Management, students are ready to take the Certified Energy Manager (CEM) review course and exam and are ready for employment in the industry.


Who are the professors for these courses?

We employ a team of top-notch industry professionals to teach our courses. These working professionals provide students with the benefit of their real-world industry experience.

Our current team of instructors includes:

  1. Ed Baker, MS Facilities Management, MBA, CEM – Senior Energy Efficiency Consultant at Eversource Energy
  2. Mike Sahm, PH.D., LEED AP BD+C – Consulting Mechanical Engineer
  3. Justin Marmaras, MS Mechanical Engineering, CEM – Industrial Energy Advisor at Leidos Engineering
  4. Ron Galati, NCQLP LC – Energy Projects Manager at Lighting Affiliates

And I (Eric Gribin) teach Blueprint Reading and Building Efficiency Auditing.


Do you offer/require any real-world experience like an internship?

Yes. In their final semester, students earn 3 college credits and gain valuable industry experience by completing a working internship with a local energy company. This past spring, all our graduating students were paid for their internships by the employers. Students in the internship course also attend a seminar class once a week that focuses on soft skills like emotional intelligence, stress management, time management, professionalism in the workplace, conflict resolution, and workplace cultures and how to handle them.

All courses in the Energy Management Program are built around the “Living Laboratories” model. We use the college campus as a living laboratory. We work with our facilities department and gain access to campus mechanical rooms, mechanical systems, and building management systems. Through hands-on learning, students gain real-world knowledge, and the college benefits from the identification of energy-saving strategies and energy analysis projects performed by students.

Industry employer partners have expressed a need for energy workers who can think analytically, who understand various methods of energy analysis, who are resourceful, and who can write a narrative. In the past, employers hired engineering students out of college and had to train them in energy analysis, since the 4-year institutions do not teach these skills.

Our program fills this void. Our students are employable across a number of clean energy businesses – at utilities in their energy efficiency programs; for contractors and consultants in lighting, HVAC, controls, and energy consulting; as RCx agents; and for renewable energy companies. Our graduates are trained to assist energy engineers in their work.


Are students coming from the industry to beef up their resume or are they generally right out of school?

About one third of our students are working energy professionals. They take our energy courses in preparation for the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) Certified Energy Manager (CEM) exam. Our program at Tunxis is one of only six community college energy programs nationwide that are recognized by the AEE as meeting the training pre-requisites for CEM certification.

Some undergraduate students are attracted to the energy program because of an interest in doing something positive for the environment. Others see this “career-technical” program as a fast-track to a good-paying job and a great career. Some of our students are adults looking to learn new skills for the clean energy industry.


What are the goals of the program for students? What’s the typical trajectory after graduation from the program?

Our grads are well-suited to handle project work for contractors in the SBEA Program and other C&I programs. They can work for energy service, HVAC, lighting, and renewable energy companies. Our students and grads are working for companies like Loureiro Engineering Associates, Environmental Systems Corporation, Eversource, USA LED, and Total Energy Connections, to name a few.


How do you envision the program evolving in the future?

For the near future, we are actively working to find new and effective ways to provide hands-on training for students. This fall, we are planning field trips to ISO-NE, a net zero building, a fuel cell manufacturing facility, a fan and pump manufacturer’s lab facility, a campus co-gen plant, and a state-of-the-art lighting lab. For the longer-term, we are looking to expand our courses in building automation.

Getting the word out about the great careers that are possible in this expanding industry is also very important to us. Not enough parents and teachers know about this as a solid career choice for high school students. This fall, we plan to develop a “dual-enrollment” course with local high schools, so that high school students can begin our program while still in school. They would earn college credits while still in high school and be exposed to this fun and interesting career path.


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