Hybrid-Tech Shifts Into Fast Lane with NSF Grant


Across the globe, the electric and hybrid-electric car industry is accelerating. When companies like Volvo announce it will begin phasing out the internal-combustion engine by 2019 and countries like India commit to only selling electric cars by 2030, its clear that the industry is changing lanes fast.

Central Oregon Community College (COCC) is positioning itself to create nationally standardized training for an as-yet standardized electric-drive technician field and a recently awarded, three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, totaling $778,417, will help the college define and implement this credentialing system.

The grant provides COCC with the resources necessary to tap into industry expertise and community college partnerships in the creation of a credentialing framework, with an eye on developing educational and industry standards for electric and hydrogen-fuel maintenance and safety training. A universal digital badge system is envisioned as the method of awarding certification.

"In the United States and Canada, there are no advanced vehicle standards for technicians," said Ken Mays, COCC's program director of automotive technology. The National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF), which offers accreditation for automotive training programs, does include a technician test for hybrid vehicles, Mays explained, but the growing field necessitates expanded standards to work with high-voltage equipment and high-pressure gaseous fuels.

Already, COCC has set the stage with support from a prior NSF grant awarded in 2015. The college created a state-approved associates degree in the field, purchased technical equipment, formed an Oregon and Washington network of professional technical institutions, and expanded channels of recruitment to include women, Latinos and Native Americans. The new grant, part two of a NSF three-tiered grant structure, builds on that last component with funds earmarked for the hiring of an outreach specialist and the purchase of interactive equipment for high school recruitment.

Partnered with Mays on the grant is John Frala, professor of Advanced Transportation Technologies and Clean Fuel Technologies at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, California, who has similarly introduced electric-drive technician coursework and an advanced automotive technology degree at his college. The states of Oregon, Washington and California represent close to one-third of the nations hybrid-electric and electric vehicle ownership Frala and Mays are well situated, in expertise and geographic location, to lead the nation in this emerging area.

"We believe that our 'systems' approach to hybrid-electric and electric vehicle training prepares technicians to approach current and future electric drive designs with confidence versus only looking at a single manufacturer," added Mays. The resulting training standards and credentialing system will undergo vetting by industry and educator team members and, upon meeting endorsement, will shift to an active-tested phase within industry businesses and other community colleges. Ultimately, the credentialing system will merit government agency approval, with the objective of instituting licensing procedures.

By Mark Russell Johnson, COCC College Relations

Information: Ken Mays at kmays@cocc.edu or 541-383-7753.

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