Shoreline Community College and North Seattle College See the Light, Break the Rules With New Solar Project

Solar Array

Workers install the 24-panel solar array on the roof of North Seattle College’s Education Building. The array is the result of a collaboration between North Seattle and Shoreline Community College.

When it comes to championing student learning, Louise Petruzzella, Director of Shoreline Community College’s Clean Energy Tech program, once was a student in the program, so it’s only natural that she puts student success at the heart of everything she does.

So when Mark Weber, a faculty member at North Seattle College, called with an idea for a partnership between North Seattle and Shoreline that would enhance student learning in a very real way, Petruzzella was all in.

Weber, who directs the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) program had an unprecedented plan: While North Seattle had just secured grant funding from Bonneville Environmental Foundation for installation of a solar array, what they didn’t have was a solar program to go with it. Shoreline’s solar program is nationally renowned and always looking for solar energy projects for its students. Maybe the two colleges could work together to merge their strengths for the benefit all their students?

The resulting collaboration is a move that demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking about how colleges operate and is leading to out-of-the-box results for all involved.

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Louise Petruzzella and David Redding of Shoreline Community College look on during construction of the new solar array at North Seattle College.

Shortly after Weber reached out to Petruzzella, her Shoreline Design Practicum course headed to the roof of North Seattle’s Education Building – the future home of the solar array – and performed a site assessment. Using this assessment, Petruzzella’s students designed  the array installation. Then, North Seattle put out a request-for-proposals (RFP) document for builders to turn that vision into reality. To ensure student learning, the RFP weighted the vendors’ planned collaboration with students at 30 percent.

Artisan Electric, a company that currently employs three students who’ve come out of Shoreline’s program, won the bid. Artisan’s proposal, which is now installed at North Seattle, is a dynamic, learning-focused 24-panel array so sensitive and sophisticated it can track moonlight.

The output of the array is a relatively modest 8 kilowatt-hours (KW) of power, but what makes the system impressive is its tracking ability in two axises – as opposed to the norm of a static system – and that it’s the first of its kind to be mounted on a roof rather than on the ground.

While the clean, renewable energy is nice, what Weber and Petruzzella are most excited about is what the technology means for their respective students.

“We’re turning our campus into a living lab,” Weber said. “The solar array will provide a platform for students to gain hands-on experience with systems they’ll encounter in real-world situations upon graduation. They can conduct experiments with it, track the output and gain skills that will make them uniquely and highly employable.”

Further amping the excitement is that the installation will be available to students of both North Seattle and Shoreline. The two colleges are collaborating to create a High Performing Building Technology and Clean Energy Tech program. The program would reside with both campuses and aim at building cross-campus degrees and certificates with a seamless transfer of credits between institutions.

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Workers welding base of solar array into place.

North Seattle students will benefit from being able to take Shoreline’s solar classes, and Shoreline students will be able to enhance their degree with North Seattle’s HVAC classes.

The collaboration will provide a unique opportunity for students to pick up skills they want that aren’t currently offered in their home program, enhance their learning and secure better paying jobs. The schools also both hope it will help them in their respective initiatives toward operating in a cleaner fashion and pushing for sustainability.

“We’re basically breaking the rules about how colleges operate,” Petruzzella said. “Instead of competing for students, we’ll aim to enrich all our students’ education by sharing instructors, labs, tools and other resources. It’s a win-win.”

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