Penn College Spurs A Pennsylvania Renaissance – Part II

Tom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW

This is Part II of our story on the Pennsylvania Renaissance being helped along by Penn College, a marvelous model for education in today’s world.

Back in May, I received a tour of Penn College, courtesy of Senator Gene Yaw, who chairs the board there, and some of the staff. It was an inspiring visit that did a lot to restore my own faith in the long-term future of America’s economy. I wrote about it here. This is Part II of the story, where we look more closely at what this great program offers to Pennsylvanians and how it is building on the shale revolution to create meaningful and personally rewarding employment opportunities for the region it serves.

Last time we talked about two unique aspects of Penn College’s program. One was it’s “stackable credentials” approach that allows someone to get a degree by starting out with a three-week certificate program. The other was its emphasis on academics as a complement to practical training, reversing the normal direction by which education is imparted to yield, as it says, “degrees that work.” This philosophy of education is so well suited to the demands of our society today. We can say Penn College has established itself as “an educational model that works” in a day when hundreds of colleges are facing serious problems.

The Penn College Mechatronics Program

Let’s talk the subject of mechatronics, for example. Never heard of it? Well, I didn’t either until my tour of the college. Part of the tour was the Mechatronics Lab where this is the sort of thing you see:

Mechatronics Engineering Technology is a major at Penn College, offered by its School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies. The curriculum is described as follows:

Mechatronics Engineering Technology offers a multidisciplinary curriculum that provides students with the diverse skill set required to install, calibrate, modify, troubleshoot, repair, and maintain automated systems. Hands-on instruction develops skills in mechanical, electrical, electronic, fluid power, and automated control systems. Graduates are prepared for technical positions in a wide range of industries.

Students in mechatronics learn about instrumentation, automation, robotics and other facets of production where electronics and mechanics meet. The mechatronics student  is prepared for a career as an “instrumentation technology/technician, robotics technology/technician, automation engineer technology/technician, electro-mechanical technician, industrial engineering technician, process technician, petroleum technician, industrial maintenance technician, field automation technician [and/or] pipeline/distribution operator.”

It’s technology on a race horse, which is exciting in its own right. Moreover, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) “petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers” enjoyed a median wage of $61,850 in 2012. Petroleum technicians earned $52,700. Penn College’s mechatronics program is filling an industry need and giving young and old alike valuable career opportunities. It’s not confined to oil and gas jobs either. These are skills that can be applied in almost energy sector or industrial endeavor. 

Natural Gas Careers Across the Spectrum

The School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies and other Penn College schools offer much more than mechatronics, though. This Penn College web page and the superb video below spell out the natural gas career opportunities awaiting its graduates:

Part of Penn College experience now includes a drilling training rig where students can get hands-on experience. They include folks of all ages, women as well as men. One of the best parts of the tour, in fact, was hearing a woman who came to the program after she lost a job and had to start over. She came with zero experience in the field or the industry. Her work on the training rig proved to her great satisfaction that she could not only handle the work but master it and she subsequently got an excellent job in the industry.

These stories are precisely what motivate Penn College’s instructors and, for that matter, all of us involved on the edges of the industry; seeing good people of talent get the chance to use it and be rewarded for what they do.  Pennsylvania manufacturing was declining for decades and we were on our way to a permanent service economy of low-paying unrewarding jobs until the renaissance wrought by the shale revolution turned things around and gave rural Pennsylvanians real hope for a change. It’s what it’s all about for all of us.

Penn College training rig

Penn College Training Rig

The training site where the rig is located also includes tons of other equipment designed to give students familiarity with every aspect of oil and gas development – much of it donated by natural gas companies who are the secondary beneficiaries of the program (after the students). Here are few pictures to illustrate:

Penn College Training

Penn College IMG_0279

Then, there is the School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies, where students train for everything from Automotive Technology Management to Diesel Technology to Forest Technology to Heavy Construction Equipment Technology to On-Site Power Generation. The facility is big, beautifully landscaped and filled with big toys donated by Caterpillar and other companies; a dream come true for self-described “motor head,” who was among the tour guides. It offers students opportunities to learn the skills required to do all the ancillary things connected with well pad and pipeline development, for example.

And, by the way, according to the BLS, diesel engine specialists earned a median wage of $42,230 in 2012 as compared to a median wage for all occupations of $34,450 – a  premium of $7,780 or 22.6% and diesel mechanics on hydraulic fracturing jobs earn far more. Heavy vehicle mechanics earned $43,820 or $9,370 above the median for all occupations.

Penn College IMG_0264

ShaleNET: Penn College Takes the Lead

All the above sets the stage for an invaluable program in which Penn College takes the lead; ShaleNET. ShaleNET involves four different educational institutions and two sponsoring organizations;

The ShaleNET history, is detailed on its website. It was launched in 2010 with a Community Based Job Training grant awarded to Westmoreland County Community College. The purpose was to respond quickly to natural gas industry needs by creating an effective and efficient entry level training program focused on certain specific high demand occupations in the upstream part of the gas industry.

The program, as of June 30, 2013, had trained over 5,000 participants in four states, with more than 3,400 finding employment. Additional grant funding was secured through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program to build capacity and extend training to mid and downstream sectors of the industry, with Penn College providing the leadership. It expands the capacity of ShaleNET geographically and incorporates the Stackable Credentials model we discussed in our last post. This graphic illustrates.

Penn College stackable credentials

Four new certificates and two new associate programs were added to give students options that will allow them, if they should desire, to proceed to a bachelor’s degree. “The stackable credential model allows multiple entry and exit points to those seeking an education and the standardized curriculum” and enables a workforce “to continue and finish their education wherever ShaleNET is offered”…which “includes state-of-the-art lab equipment, an open source and cloud-based curriculum.”

Penn College, as ShaleNET demonstrates, is using the shale revolution to launch an educational revolution and it’s overdue. College enrollments are declining, particularly among two-year programs, but also including law schools, for example, and tuitions have become unaffordable to many. Too many colleges and universities have failed to innovate or cut costs and deliver less and less real value every year, living off student loans to do the same old things without change in an information age that should have changed everything. Penn College is a beautiful exception, pioneering a totally different approach to delivering education that is needed by the communities it serves and actually improves lives. May it long continue to do so.

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4 thoughts on “Penn College Spurs A Pennsylvania Renaissance – Part II

  1. Pingback: Penn College Spurs A Pennsylvania Renaissance – Part II | ShaleNOW

  2. Pingback: Shale Markets, LLC / Penn College Spurs A Pennsylvania Renaissance – Part II (USA)

  3. Good article but need to point out a risk situation. The nice two green tanks looks like they might have some stuff required to be contained. As a rule of thumb, the distance to the top of the bund from the closest tank should exceed half the height of the tank, to capture any pin hole leak.

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