August 11, 2016—Warm sunshine, coastal breeze, and ocean all around.  Such conditions make the Florida Keys a great place to visit, but at Florida Keys Community College (FKCC), they are inspiring much more than sunbathing on the beach.  The College sees the powerful natural resources in its own backyard—sun, tides, and winds—and envisions ways to generate green energy, wean the planet from its fossil fuel dependency, and train workers for new cutting-edge technology jobs.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) agrees and has awarded FKCC $894,321 to bring its vision to full fruition over the next three years.  With the grant, the College will develop an Associate in Science degree in Engineering Technology with an Alternative Energy Technician (ET-AET) track that will focus on career pathways in solar, wind, and ocean power technology.  The new program, planned to launch in August 2017, supports the U.S. federal government’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and double the renewable energy workforce by 2025.

“At no time in human history has the need for sustainable, clean, renewable alternative energy been more critical. The global ramifications of burning fossil fuels can no longer be ignored because the climate is changing, the polar ice caps are melting, the seas are rising, the oceans are acidifying, and the biosphere is degrading,” said Dr. Patrick Rice, FKCC’s Chief Science and Research Officer and Principal Investigator on the NSF grant. “However it is not too late.  With this NSF grant, FKCC can train the 21st Century workforce for alternative energy and conduct research that will foster the future of energy production.  The Florida Keys can become a demonstration to the world on how to live sustainably with the environment.”

The Engineering Technology-Alternative Energy Technician program builds synergies with the College’s existing programs and infrastructure.  The College will repurpose its 40-foot deep lagoon, originally used to train diving students, as the hub for alternative energy research on its Key West Campus.  The unique facility will soon be the home of the Tidal Energy Simulation Laboratory or TESLA.  The controlled environment provides an ideal location for researchers to work with students to test prototype hydropower devices as well as compare wind and solar technologies.  Students in FKCC’s Marine Engineering program will craft the fiberglass vessel from which ET-AET students will conduct research in the waters surrounding the College in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Straits.

In the Florida Keys and beyond, the College is assembling a global network of experts in solar, wind, and ocean power to contribute to the program by providing curriculum guidance and hosting professional internships for students as they near graduation.  Just down the road in Stock Island, the College will be working with Hydrokinetic Energy Corp—a company that engineers hydrokinetic turbines for the production of electric energy.  The list of collaborators in the new program also includes local allies Benson Green Technology, Sea Air Land Technologies (SALT), and Keys Energy as well as larger entities like Florida Atlantic University’s Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center.

Much farther away, FKCC is building a partnership with EnGen Institute in Australia, a non-profit educational and research organization that focuses on sustainable power engineering.  With the resources provided by the NSF grant, FKCC students could have the opportunity to travel “down under” to the Torres Straits to practice their skills and broaden their resume.  In turn, EnGen would also send their affiliates for training at FKCC.

“It’s truly an exciting time at FKCC.  We are proud to be at the forefront of renewable energy development that not only prepares students for in-demand jobs of the future, but also contributes to a healthier planet,” said Dr. Jonathan Gueverra, FKCC President and CEO.  “We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for investing in the tremendous potential that exists at our small but, literally, powerful institution.”