Expanding Lifelong STEM Career Pathways in Sustainable Building Science Technology
South Seattle Community College, Washington State University, and Edmonds Community College are working with industry partners to prepare technicians for the sustainable building science technology workforce. Due to the effects of the Baby Boom bubble, retirements in the energy efficiency industry are estimated to reach 23 percent of building energy managers in the next five years. As these skilled and experienced employees prepare for retirement, the market for an even more advanced workforce is expected to grow. More complex building codes and ever emerging technologies create increased demand for increasingly skilled labor. The institutions are addressing industry needs by implementing career and education pathways at all levels of the skill continuum. The potential societal benefits include producing a stable supply of highly skilled and diverse graduates to serve as managers of sustainable buildings into the future. Further, outreach activities for area high school students are laying the groundwork for creating an ample supply of high school graduates into sustainable building management on a continual basis.
The specific goals of the project are to (1) design a Baccalaureate of Applied Science (BAS) curriculum that meets the needs of both employers and targeted populations (i.e. students from groups that are typically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines); (2) incorporate curricular innovations such as industry-recognized certifications and building benchmarking skills into the curriculum; (3) enhance recruiting and retention of students from targeted populations; and (4) create summer workshop programs for high school teachers resulting in curricular materials that they can use with their students. This program is advancing knowledge in two ways. First, it is enabling the development of a curriculum that is one of the first of its kind in the country. Specifically, it is incorporating emerging scientific, policy, technical, and managerial skills required of operators of sustainable buildings in the coming years. This program also includes innovative components, for example a course that teaches students how to benchmark building energy use and use that skill to inform building maintenance schedules and upgrades. Second, the program brings together several cutting-edge pedagogical and student services strategies to ensure that the diverse populations targeted for this program graduate. These strategies include the use of competency-based instruction as well as an early warning system to identify students at risk of attrition, coupled with intrusive advising to ensure they get the services they need.
The Context, Input, Process and Product (CIPP) model is being used to evaluate the project. Outcomes from program assessment and evaluation are informing the broader STEM education community of the impact of various program elements on the enrollment and retention of students from underrepresented groups in STEM programs focused on sustainable buildings and the quality and significance of that impact, effectiveness of incorporating industry certifications into curricula, and gains in overall student participation, enrollment and employment in the sustainable building industry resulting from secondary to post-secondary pathways.