Emmetsburg students get hands on with electricity, robots
Flick a switch and a light turns on, change the thermostat and the air conditioning kicks in or just watch the blades of a wind turbine spin: 26 Emmetsburg High School students got to decipher the everyday mysteries of life hands-on at Iowa Lakes Community College this week as part of their May term.
“I’m pretty sure they’re learning a lot,” said Travis Birkey, industrial technology teacher at EHS, who earned his associate’s degree from Iowa Lakes in 2003.
The students started Friday, May 16, half with the Wind Energy & Turbine Technology program and half with the Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning Technology program, all in the Sustainable Energy Resources & Technologies Center at the Estherville campus.
An Emmetsburg High School student rappels down the side of a mock wind tower Friday, May 16, in the Sustainable Energy Resources & Technologies Center at the Estherville campus of Iowa Lakes Community College.
Those who learned about becoming a wind turbine service technician suited up with all the gear a working tech would use, and then climbed practice ladders using two different safety systems. Under the supervision of Pat McCoy, instructor, and Michael Gengler, wind energy coordinator, they even rappelled down the side of the mock wind tower in the SERT Center.
“They seem to be attentive, and really liking it,” McCoy said of the high schoolers.
The students who studied HVAC, also known as environmental control systems, got hands-on with a Van de Graaff generator — literally — in order to see and feel how electric charges can be generated with simple static. Then they got a chance to do a little electrical wiring— they connected a thermostat to a light bulb and a switch to simulate wiring a thermostat to a heater in a building.
Students check out a Van de Graaff generator.
People don’t typically notice HVAC systems until something goes wrong with them, whether it’s a carbon monoxide leak, a disease outbreak, “sick building” syndrome, or just an air conditioner that makes an irritating noise. And the systems themselves are often nearly invisible—air vents are designed to be unobtrusive, and the public doesn’t see their favorite businesses’ boiler rooms.
Yet HVAC is a critical element of any building and technicians are very much in demand, especially with the recent emphasis on building performance, automated systems and energy efficiency, said Don Edwards, HVAC instructor.
“I have all kinds of employers looking for employees, way, way more jobs than I have students,” he explained.
And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s a trend. Jobs are expected to grow by 14 percent, “much faster than average,” its website says, and the median pay is $45,910 per year. And the discipline offers great diversity in jobs as well— HVAC experts are needed for household repairs and installation, but can also work on refrigeration trucks, grocery stores, factories and industry.
Increasing automation and a need for technical expertise is a trend in a lot of fields.
Students work on programming robots.
On Monday, the Emmetsburg teens learned about the Engineering Technology program, primarily through programming and wiring robots on wheels. Then they took the robots out for a spin, helping them navigate around squares and in the case of one ambitious group, an elevator.
“I hope they just get excited,” said instructor Chad Tischer. “None of them ever programmed anything... it’s the troubleshooting part of this that is pretty fun.”
Students wire light bulbs with wall sockets and light switches.
The HVAC and wind tech groups swapped places on Tuesday; on Wednesday, students came together again for Electrical Technology, wiring light bulbs into practice walls with both wall sockets and light switches.
“They’re just making up some quick circuits with lights and switches,” Tischer said, crediting Electrical Technology Program Coordinator Doug Zemler with the idea to connect the Emmetsburg students with SERT programs.
Finally, the group headed to Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center, north of Ruthven, where Iowa Lakes instructor Drew Howing led them through the woods and prairie, showing them how foresters cull trees, methods for monitoring animal habitats and water sampling.
“Why do people in Iowa hate beavers so much?” Howing asked his students, before he explained that they often block agricultural drainage that farmers need in order to avoid crop losses. In drier places, people deliberately bring beavers in to help keep water in place, using them as a water management device.
He gave them tips and tricks for hunting morel mushrooms, and showed them how wildlife workers ensure that their measurements are consistent and accurate even on rough terrain.
Emmetsburg freshman Levi Aldous said he would consider becoming a wind turbine technician.
“Hopefully they get a little bit of knowledge and go with it,” Tischer said.
“I liked it all,” said sophomore Spencer Griffin, who said he was especially interested in the wind and environmental studies programs.
“It’s interesting,” said Connor Joyce, also a sophomore. He was most interested in the electrical work, because “it’s knowledge that everybody should know.”
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