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Grant helps teachers steer students toward technical training
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North Hall High School environmental science teacher Cynthia Greer, left, asks Cecil Quinley, chief electrical engineer at Buford Dam, a question Thursday about the operating room during a tour as part of a seminar held by Lanier and North Georgia Technical Colleges. The seminar is made possible through the ENERGE Grant, which exposes students to technical careers. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

What do we do when the state runs short of electrical employees in the next few years?

Hire more, Lanier Technical College officials say.

“We have a critical shortage of workers and need smart students to replace the retiring work force,” said Neil Matheson, lead instructor of the electronics program and the Lanier Tech director of a grant doled out across the state to help with this problem. “The power companies are in crisis mode with people retiring in the next five to 10 years, and we need mature students who can go in and understand what they’re dealing with.”

Under a Department of Labor E.N.E.R.G.E. grant, Lanier Tech offered classes Wednesday and Thursday to local high school teachers who can encourage their students to pursue technical training.

The grant focuses on five energy industries — electric, oil/natural gas/pipelines, nuclear, transmission/generation energy and energy-related construction — and targets jobs such as carpentry, electrical line work, maintenance, wiring and welding.

“This is my niche of students. This is what I teach all day long,” said Cynthia Greer, who teaches environmental science and Advanced Placement environmental science classes at North Hall High School. “I teach many kids who will end up going to Lanier Tech in areas like landscape management and construction, and I tell them, if it’s green-centered, they’ll find a job.”

On Wednesday, the group learned hands-on experiments to use in the classroom to talk about the environment, and on Thursday traveled to the Buford Dam Powerhouse to discuss energy.

“Last year we collected plastic bottles and hung them from the ceiling in the cafeteria to show how much plastic we use,” said Kelly Woodham, the action service coordinator at West Hall High School. “After Wednesday’s lesson, I want to create an energy patrol group on campus to find and log ways we can recycle and reduce waste on campus.”

Some teachers discussed how to implement the ideas into their curriculum. But Scott Woerner, who teaches physical education to early elementary school grades in two Rabun County schools, decided to take the class to brush up on science knowledge for possible job opportunities.

“I used to teach science, so I thought I’d bone up on the science side, and next week I take a P.E. workshop in Smyrna,” he said. “The more you can do, the more marketable you can become. In terms of incorporating this into my classes now, there are days when I can’t teach P.E. to the students, so I can show them pictures from today and tell them what I learned.”

Cecil Quinley, chief electrical engineer for the dam, led the group through the entire utility, including areas around the turbines and a slimy 200-foot tunnel blasted through granite rock about 150 feet under Buford Dam Road.

The teachers argued about the type of rock in the tunnel, took pictures of the goats that chew down the grass along the rocky hillside of the dam and marveled at the type of jobs needed to keep the dam running.

“In generations before, you could stay with one company your whole life, but not now,” said John Cundey, a physical science professor at Winder-Barrow High School. “I tell my seniors that they’re going to be working many jobs, and especially in this economic climate, they shouldn’t be afraid to pick up a wide range of knowledge and various skills.”

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