BSC welcomes another class to its energy programs

 Aug 17 2015

This story is reprinted with permission from the Lignite Energy Council.

The lignite-based power plants that dot the hillsides near Center, Beulah, Stanton and Washburn generate more than electricity. They also generate jobs - thousands of them. Since the 1970s, Bismarck State College has partnered with electric utilities that own the power plants to ensure there is a trained pool of talent to work at those power plants.

Beginning in 1976 in modest surroundings - a garage in Mandan - the college's power plant training program was born. Today's it's housed in the National Energy Center of Excellence on the campus of the Bismarck-based community college. BSC is recognized as the premier energy training site in the United States and perhaps the world.

BSC is the third largest college in the state and part of the reason is because of its 12 energy programs that include Power Plant Technology, Instrumentation and Control and Mechanical Maintenance - all disciplines needed at the power plants.

The college will have an enrollment of approximately 4,000 students this fall. About 1,000 of the students will enroll in energy-related classes. Of that amount, about 70 percent will take their energy classes online - and those students can typically be found in all 50 states along with some foreign countries.

Because of the employment boom in the oil fields, BSC also offers Petroleum Production Technology. In addition, BSC's Process Plant program prepares graduates to operate natural gas processing facilities, refineries and ethanol plants. Due to investments in wind farms, there are also classes offered in renewable generation technology.

"Bismarck State College's energy programs are popular because they lead to great careers and our curriculum includes state-of-the-art lab equipment, animation and simulations," said Kari Knudson, vice president of the National Energy Center of Excellence. "All of our instructors come from the energy industry and they work hard to prepare students for successful careers in the industry."

Knudson said that some people may have a misconception that BSC programs are not "as robust as other colleges" because BSC is a two-year community college. She said that's not the case.

"BSC offers several high quality programs," she said. "Faculty expect a lot of their students and need to prepare them to move from BSC directly to a place of employment. The instructors know what's expected in the workplace because they have worked at power plants, refineries and the gasification plant. Students get a lot of attention at BSC and are able to interact more with their instructors."

Utilities obviously believe in the programs because they hire BSC grads but also invest in equipment and scholarships to assist in the education process.

Great River Energy, for instance, houses a simulator at BSC. The simulator is a replica of the control room at Coal Creek Station, the largest power plant in North Dakota. BSC is able to use the simulator to educate students along with training employees from Great River Energy and other utilities.

As the industry changes, so do the classes. BSC has added "smart grid" courses to the energy programs as utilities are increasingly using data to help them conserve energy and run their transmission and distribution systems more efficiently.

"BSC has a history of leveraging technology to help our students," Knudson said. "We want the students who take our classes on-line to get the same level of education as the ones who attend classes on campus."

Another reason that BSC's energy program is popular is because students find good paying jobs, often with benefit packages for some of the best-known companies in the state.

"We are still in a situation where there are more energy jobs than there are students to fill them," Knudson added. "In every one of our energy programs, the job placement is more than 90 percent and some of them are 100 percent."

The Lignite Energy Council is a regional trade association representing North Dakota lignite producers, electric utilities and more than 330 businesses providing goods and services to the mines and plants. The lignite industry generates approximately $3 billion in gross business volume within the state.  

Learn more about BSC's energy programs here.