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WVNCC plans to rebrand, expand petroleum program

PROGRAM CHANGES — Curt Hippensteel, energy technology instructor at West Virginia Northern Community College, shows a vertical separator used in the college’s petroleum technology program, soon to be renamed the “energy technology program” to reflect a movement toward renewable energy sources. -- Joselyn King

WHEELING — West Virginia Northern Community College is expanding and rebranding its petroleum technology program to reflect the energy industry’s movement toward renewable energy sources.

The program will be renamed the “energy technology program” beginning with the fall semester.

The original petroleum technology program was started on the WVNCC Wheeling campus in 2013, explained Curt Hippensteel, energy technology instructional specialist. Its role has been to train field technicians for the petroleum industry.

The petroleum technology program has had an advisory committee, made up of representatives from the energy industry who tell the college what skills and training they want their employees to have, he said. More and more, the energy companies are telling WVNCC they need them to be well-versed not just in petroleum industry needs, but evolving renewable energies such as solar, hydropower, wind and geothermal.

Two years ago, the decision was made to gradually expand the WVNCC petroleum technology program to become the “energy technology program” starting this fall.

“There were a lot of reasons for that, but one of them is that companies are expanding into other technologies besides fossil fuels,” Hippensteel said. “So we wanted our graduates to be able to have some background in renewables, as well as fossil fuel technology.

“The petroleum energy is still an important part of our energy mix,” he continued. “But as that mix evolves, we wanted our students to be able to adapt to that.”

WVNCC has had “great success” over the years placing its students in petroleum engineering jobs. There also is a history of these students moving up and progressing within their respective fields, according to Hippensteel.

At WVNCC, students have the option to attend classes and obtain a one-year certificate of applied science degree and in energy technology, or go on to receive a two-year associate’s degree. Typically there are about 15 energy technology students in the two-year program, with seven graduating last spring, Hippensteel said. He expects those numbers to remain steady this year.

Two classes are being added to the existing curriculum. The first centers on “alternative energy concepts,” while the other is “emergency transition technology and applications.”

Students can take their first year of classes in energy technology at either the WVNCC Wheeling campus or the campus in New Martinsville. The second-year classes are available only on the Wheeling campus.

“People can go into the energy industry without a degree,” added David Barnhardt, director of communications and student recruitment at WVNCC. “But the addition of the degree gives them extra education and the ability to move up and become successful.

“It’s a huge advantage to have that degree as you go through your career.”

Presently, WVNCC students in the energy technology program — if they are West Virginia residents — could qualify to attend classes free through the WV Invests grants.

WV Invests is a state-funded grant program that pays the full cost of tuition and fees for select programs at the state’s public two- and four-year institutions. Priority is given to programs in high-demand fields, such as information technology or healthcare, as determined by the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

Those participating in WV Invests make a commitment to live in West Virginia for at least two years after graduation.

During the program, students are provided with a material understanding of the energy field, with an emphasis on safety practices and how shift work operates, Hippensteel said. There are also a lot of lab classes where students are given hands-on exercises to complete.

“Once they are ready, they can go out and work right now,” he said. “Employers want them to be able to take apart equipment and put it back together. We want them to be safe.”

Students can register for the fall semester at WVNCC until the first day of classes on Aug. 29.

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