FVCC Partners with Colombia College to Study Energy Systems

Group from South America visits the Flathead for two weeks to learn and share ideas

By Dillon Tabish
Students and instructors from Colombia and Flathead Valley Community College. Courtesy Photo

The big sky. The big landscape. The big lake.

Last month, 10 students and instructors from Colombia experienced their first adventure outside of South America with a tour of Western Montana.

Through a partnership with Flathead Valley Community College, the group from a technical college in Colombia called SENA Caldas spent two weeks here working with students and instructors at the Kalispell-based community college while also taking in all the sights and sounds of the Flathead Valley.

FVCC was one of five community colleges in the U.S. to be awarded a $40,000 grant through the U.S. Department of State to promote collaborative exchange programs between the U.S., Mexico, Central America and South America. FVCC and SENA are collaborating on alternative energy projects involving solar and wind technology.

As the grant award explained, the future of the people and nations of the Americas is inextricably linked, and through this collaborative the goal is to help each school develop new systems and projects that could benefit the different nations in an evolving energy landscape.

“We know about the technology they use here at the college and we are here to acquire new techniques that we can apply in the manufacturing process in Colombia,” said Diego Vaneganas with SENA.

A group from FVCC took the group from Colombia to several local businesses, including Applied Materials, Kalispell Kreamery and the solar panels at Flathead Electric Co-op. They also drove to the wind farm in Shelby.

“As an instructor, this experience opens my mind and makes me think, ‘How can I apply and transfer this knowledge to my students?’ There are many different techniques that I’ve learned here that I am excited to take back to Colombia and share,” Vaneganas said.

The high quality of programs at FVCC, including the occupational trade and manufacturing equipment and facilities, stood out to Vaneganas. So did Montana’s landscape.

“The cities here are not very big, but the land is very big,” Vaneganas said, laughing.

A year ago, FVCC sent three students and two instructors to Colombia for a few weeks for a similar experience and exercise, hoping for them to bring back skills and ideas that could be incorporated into the community college’s electronics and manufacturing programs.

Patrick Kling, a student finishing his degree in machining in the electrical technology program, said the opportunity to visit Colombia and see how that country is addressing renewable energy and advanced technology systems was an eye-opener.

“They have incredible machining and electronics technology programs and institutions, and their public schools are offering all of these opportunities to students as young as eighth and ninth grade,” he said.

“There’s a lot of ideas like that that we could bring into this country.”

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