Walters State Community College will mark a milestone Friday when the first graduate of the innovative Clean Energy Technology receives his Associate of Applied Science degree.
Tommy Reynolds will also be receiving technical certificates in clean energy core and clean energy electronics/electricity. An entire community will celebrate with him – including representatives of power companies, contractors, employers, faculty members, green energy enthusiasts and a few “tree huggers.”
The loudest applause for Reynolds might be from Tom Sewell, dean of Walters State’s Division of Technology.
Sewell started developing the program about five years ago. An advisory board made up of representatives of various sectors helped greatly. The degree began to take shape with a series of “green” workshops hosted by Connie O’Vercum, director of Walters State’s Center for Workforce Education.
Eventually, the curriculum was approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents, which governs Walters State.
“Putting this program together was a very large group effort,” Sewell says.
“We had faculty members who were willing to go beyond what was expected or required. Many community organizations and businesses believed in us,” Sewell said.
Walters State is one of only a handful of community colleges in the country that offers a degree in clean energy, making Reynolds a pioneer in the field. The Blaine resident hasn’t landed a job yet, but he’s looking into several companies and considering an internship.
Like many others who will walk across the stage Friday night, Reynolds came back to Walters State after losing a long-held job due to the recession.
“When I had the chance to go back to school, I wanted to take it. I’ll be honest. I had been out of school for a few years and I was a little nervous about being the older person on campus,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds had heard about the new program at Walters State and was interested.
“I know that our natural resources will eventually disappear. If we don’t do something to develop clean energy sources, I don’t know what kind of place we’ll be leaving our children and our grandchildren,” he added.
Once he was enrolled and settled in his classes, he realized he wasn’t the only “old” man. And he also realized the younger students were respectful and friendly. As he progressed through his classes, he became more passionate about the environment – and saw that passion in others, too.
“When I started this program, I don’t think I had ever seen a solar panel. Now, I pass several places that have installed solar panels on my drive in everyday. This field is on the verge of being so big. It feels good to be here at the beginning,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds is especially grateful for the support of his wife, Katherine, and his son, Jordan. Jordan is now a freshman at Walters State.
The next big milestone for the Clean Energy Technology Program will come in three semesters, when 16 graduates enrolled in the College Express cohort earn degrees. College Express allows students to complete the degree in two years attending classes one night a week, taking one class at a time.
In the photo: Tommy Reynolds (in cap and gown) will be the first to earn an associate's degree in clean energy technology at Walters State Community College. He's shown with Tom Sewell, dean of technical education, and Andy Aarons, associate professor of clean energy technology.