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Course, program offers sustainable energy lessons, savings

November 2nd, 2012 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

For some people, the Sustainable Energy Program at University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus is a way to learn about methods to decrease fossil fuel consumption and contribute positively to the environment. For others, it is a way to keep from giving it all their money to the electric and heating fuel companies.

Either way, it's a good thing, says Tom Marsik, who crafted the program and its wide variety of classes over the past three years in Dillingham.

"I think the main motivation for a lot of people is the money," said Marsik, assistant professor of the program. "Some people are aware of resource and environmental issues, but we say that what's good for the environment is also good for the pocketbook."

A class starting in early November in Dillingham is a perfect example of the natural marriage between positive environmental actions and cost savings. The class, dubbed "Home Energy Basics" is a one-credit entry-level look at how to make your home more energy efficient. It covers topics such as lighting, heating with wood and retrofitting your home to make it more efficient It also delves into the basics of building science, and dabbles in renewable energy installation. And while it's almost certain to save its students money in home energy costs, the class is free thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another grant from the Department of Education pays for the cost of travel for students in the Bristol Bay region to come to Dillingham.

Marsik said past students of this class, which he teaches several times a year in various Bristol Bay communities, have come up later and told him how much they have reduced their electricity and heating costs.

"The feedback that I'm getting is very positive," he said. "The challenge is still to convince people that they can actually help themselves if they get a bit of knowledge from our class. We just have to convince them to come and learn."

The class includes a section on renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines and photovoltaic cells. Students will perform a hands-on installation of the type of products now on the market for homeowners. They will also get a chance to find out once and for all how much it costs to run that old fridge. Using a product that plugs into the wall and then into an appliance, students can gage how much energy the device is using, then calculate the total cost of each item.

Class part of larger campus program

Marsik began working on the Sustainable Energy Program in 2009 when the Bristol Bay Campus identified a need in the region to respond to spiraling energy costs.

"Because of the community demand, the Bristol Bay Campus felt they should strengthen their sustainable energy activities," he said.

The resulting program spans everything from the Home Energy Basics class to two certificate programs geared at preparing students for a variety of jobs — everything from employment in construction trades to having a stepping stone toward pursuing a higher degree in a sustainable energy field.

Currently, the program has two main tracks students can follow — the occupational endorsement in sustainable energy program and the construction trades technology certificate. The latter focuses on hands-on classes, often delivered in the summer, when students actually build a cabin or other project with energy efficiency components.

Students of the occupational endorsement in sustainable energy are prepared for a wide variety of positions — everything from facility maintenance to work as a weatherization technician — a popular field as various state programs offering funds for residents to improve their homes across the state.

"They can choose to get further training after this program and be more specialized, they could become licensed solar technicians or energy auditors, or they could choose to get a higher degree," Marsik said.

Students who study the sustainable energy track learn to crunch the numbers so they can determine how much actually can be saved by switching from one energy source to another. Graduates of this program would be able to tell you the actual value of adding a layer of insulation on your home, for example, Marsik said.

Marsik says that many of the classes are available via distance delivery, and in future years, an entire track may be available via distance delivery, so that even if people are located outside of Dillingham, the opportunity to participate in the programs exists.

The sustainable energy department doesn't just focus on classes, either. Marsik said they hold monthly events such as showings of sustainable energy movies, youth outreach activities to teach children about sustainable energy-saving techniques, and community events, like an energy-efficient car show, where people with hybrid or electric vehicles brought them in for the rest of the community to inspect.

"We have a lot of different levels and different topics, from general classes to specialized classes on wind and solar energy," Marsik said.

Anyone interested in the upcoming Home Energy Basics class, which runs Nov. 9-11, can contact the department at 842-5109 or toll free 1-800-478-5109 or learn more online at The website also includes information about all the other Sustainable Energy program offerings.


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