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News / Clark County News

Clark College developing clean-energy programs with classes possibly starting in a year

Classes to expand school's mechatronics, automotive programs

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 18, 2024, 6:03am

Education in clean-energy technologies will play a big role in Southwestern Washington’s future as the region adapts to climate change, according to a Clark College faculty member.

“These are critical things to be learning about in this day and age,” said Ken Luchini, chairman of the community college’s mechatronics program. “There is going to be an electricity shortage in the next 20 years.”

Last year, Clark received a $1 million federal grant to develop a Center for Clean Energy — an expansion of the school’s mechatronics technology and automotive technology programs. The money will be used to purchase a solar array, a hydro trainer, a small-scale wind tower and four electric vehicles and also to develop new degree programs in clean-energy technical work. Some of these programs will be taught at Clark’s yet-to-open Advanced Manufacturing campus in Ridgefield.

The funding came from the Community Project Fund, a federal program requested under the 2023 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies funding bill.

The program’s curriculum and logistics are still in development, and Luchini said he hopes classes will begin in as little as a year.

As it stands, Clark’s two-year mechatronics program aims to expose students to as many technical fields as possible to place them in entry-level jobs or apprenticeships upon graduation.

“We make them into jacks of all trades,” Luchini said. “An employer can expect to hire a technician (from among Clark graduates) and know they have a person on the job or in an apprenticeship program that knows a good bit about everything.”

Students who choose to pursue the clean-energy technician program will take four classes in their second year specific to the field, including utility power generation, clean building operations and more.

The classes will be critical to filling a need for how we work to adapt to climate change in the decades ahead, Luchini said.

“There’s more demand for electric vehicles. People keep buying high-powered refrigerators or using air conditioning more in response to climate change,” he said. “There’s going to be a need for technicians who can help maintain these buildings and appliances. And the best way to do that is to teach it.”