The only constant is change in the MacPhail School of Energy
It's a long way from the Johnson-Cobbe Energy Centre to Peru but that's where SAIT Electrical Engineering Technology (EET) students headed earlier this year. They ascended 4,000 metres above sea level to apply their skills and transform the lives of children and families in a nearby mountain village.
The students installed solar panels to bring electricity to a remote off-the-grid settlement. The technology they introduced to the local school and community centre means a brighter future for children who study there and adults who use it as a meeting place.
"I went on the first trip SAIT organized to do this last year and it was incredible," says Tenzin Blair, a second-year EET student. "The villagers had a celebration. Everybody was so excited, especially the kids. It makes such a difference in their lives."
EET instructor and organizer, Darko Stelkic, says it's more than just an adventure and a good cause; it has real world application in the students' careers when they return to Alberta.
"They receive a huge lesson in teamwork and problem solving. They were in a remote area and if something went wrong they had no outside resources — only the equipment they brought and each other."
Stelkic adds, "The solar panel installation directly relates to work they could be doing right here at home. Many well sites in Alberta are in remote areas without electricity and they may be called upon to install solar panels to keep oil wells pumping."
Solar panels in the oil and gas industry?
The energy industry is constantly changing and that change is accelerating.
Lynne Allan, who joined the MacPhail School of Energy as dean in 2016 is leading the school in meeting the needs of students and an ever-changing energy industry.
Allan, who held senior management positions with Suncor for 20 years, has extensive experience supporting oil sands and conventional oil and gas, as well as the downstream part of the energy business. She also has knowledge of the renewable energy sector and the industry's transportation networks including pipeline, rail and marine services.
"I've always been an advocate for education and believe in the importance of constantly challenging yourself to gain new knowledge and experience," says Allan. She often takes the pulse of industry to ensure our students are gaining skills necessary to serve the highly-specialized workforce whose needs are constantly changing, as well as industry requirements.
SAIT responds to change
The newly Indigenized Pipeline Monitoring Certificate — an intensive three-week program developed with insights from industry, provides foundational knowledge of pipeline systems including design, construction and maintenance — is one example of how SAIT is evolving its energy education. The program includes work experience or a student research project with support from industry partners.
The first 60 students went through the pilot program and will receive their credentials in the fall of 2018. The course has been well received by Indigenous students who see it as an opportunity to build mutual understanding between industry and the Indigenous community and support career and economic development for First Nations.
Allan says we need to stay the course with our current programming, while continuing to build new capabilities in order to promote student success while keeping our province's energy workforce healthy and strong. "My goal is to work with my SAIT colleagues to ensure students have what they need to establish successful careers and generate value for the energy companies who employ them."