Deborah Ashley has bachelor's and master's degrees, but now she wants a green degree. The 43-year-old Decatur, Ala., resident is attending Calhoun Community College to earn one of the school's newest degrees: renewable energy.
This home energy efficiency program is part of the Alabama Center for Excellence in Clean Energy Technologies, which is under renovation at Calhoun. The $3.4 million center is expected to open this summer.
Director Jerry Adams said the Renewable Energy program features photovoltaic systems (knowledge in electricity generated from the sun), solar thermal, energy efficiency and leadership in energy and environmental design certification.
Adams said the new center requires 51 percent less energy than a traditional building. The center is not only for earning degrees, but also a demonstration site for how companies might save on energy.
An Athens High School graduate, Ashley earned a bachelor's degree in communications with a minor in family consumer science and a master's in counseling at Alabama A&M University.
She became interested in green technologies while working as a graduate assistant for a family and consumer science professor at the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service at Alabama A&M.
"The textbook was written by an interior designer," Ashley said. "And it included chapters on sustainable and renewable energy and green construction."
Ashley decided to leave her liberal arts degrees and enter the male-dominated, hands-on construction field. She is one of five women in the 50-person program. Ashley's classes this semester are autoCAD, a basics in renewable energy, industrial safety and handling metals.
She believes she got her interest in construction from her late father, Clarence Ruff, who was a carpenter. She wanted to be an architect at one time.
"I think he would be proud," Ashley said.
Ashley works two jobs and attends school. One of her jobs is as a career counselor in the GED program at Calhoun. She said this job helped her realize high demand for people in the renewable energy field.
A two-year renewable energy degree creates several job possibilities. Ashley could get a four-year environmental science degree and become a teacher.
She also sells mobile phones, and this retail experience could mean a sales job in renewable energies. She will have the technician schools to install and/or solar panels and wind turbines. She could also go into construction or her real love, interior design.
"One day I want to build my own house that's completely off the (electrical) grid," Ashley said. "It would have solar power to heat the water and provide electricity and gray water (dirty) to water my lawn."
Ashley people are skeptical about renewable energies, so another possible job is community outreach and teaching people the value of saving through energy conservation.
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