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Unitec Career Center Receives Major Solar Grant

The Unitec Career Center in Bonne Terre has been awarded a grant worth between $75,000 and $100,000 for the establishment of a Solar Training Program through the Missouri Community Service Commission. Dan Schunks

The Missouri Community Service Commission has announced that Unitec Career Center in Bonne Terre has been awarded a grant worth between $75,000 and $100,000 for the establishment of a Solar Training Program.

The program, the first of its kind in the state of Missouri, will train students in the understanding, installation, management and maintenance of solar power systems.

“These grants are changing lives through the power of service,” said Brittany Crabtree, executive director of the Missouri Community Service Commission. “Our team is proud to establish Americorps programs at the local level to strengthen communities. We look forward to the positive impact these grants will provide to Missourians, especially those in rural areas.”

The grant will be effective Jan. 1 and expire at the end of that year.

“My understanding is that this is the first totally green-based” grant of this type,” said Unitec Director Jeff Cauley. “They may have other schools that did similar grants, but they had other components in it. In fairness to these kids that are in electrical or in construction, if we’re not introducing them, at least give them a taste of a solar component, we’re doing them a disservice because they’re going to be on those jobs.”

There is a concerted effort being made to encourage trade skills training as an alternative to attending college in preparation for a career. But as technology has expanded and progressed in everyday life, there is a need for those entering this arena to be versed not only in electrical, plumbing, and construction but to be competent in expanding fields dealing with new technologies, such as solar energy. This grant will help familiarize students planning on going into the trade fields to become acclimated to the various nuances found in solar energy.

Cauley explained how the grant would be implemented, saying, “Right now, they’re just wanting us to introduce our instructors through concepts and then find out based on this study, what you would need to move forward.

“If there’s not enough interest right now to say we’re going to put a whole program in solar, we could take two weeks out of our existing program to put a solar component in there.”

Classes could be offered in the evening at Unitec as well.

According to Cauley, the goal would be to have a stand-alone building.

“We wanted it to be a stand-alone part of the program and that the building actually took care of itself,” he said. “Our goal with this building is to set it up and to have panels run the heat to keep the batteries warm, so they will keep that going.”

The building would allow students to learn not only how to install the panels but also how to put them into the battery so there is a functional backup.

Since the grant will be activated on Jan. 1, the process of writing curriculum to incorporate this new opportunity into the existing program is essential. To do this, Unitec will reach out to Mike Gilliam of Meier Electric and Mark Stephens of Casa Del Solar for consulting purposes. Due to their expertise in this field, it will help to ensure that what is planned is relevant and practical.

“I think we can start teaching kids in the fall with this program,” Cauley said.

In education, such a short timeframe is considered moving at blazing speed.

To write a grant of this magnitude requires the cooperation of a number of dedicated individuals. Aside from Jeff Cauley, others involved in the writing of the grant and putting it into practice are Mo Massie Bales, Dr. William Bratberg, Dr. Phyllis Hargis, John Bales, Bruce Pratte, Mike Gilliam, and Mark Stephens.

There are alternatives to college, and the need for qualified workers in the trades field is as great as it has ever been. The grant makes possible an avenue for success for those students interested in hands on employment and to be equipped with the basic knowledge of the rapidly expanding world of solar energy.

Dan Schunks is a staff writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at


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