Dec. 21st, 2016

SMC Grows Sustainable Technologies Program for Green Careers

Michael Saldivar, Stuart Cooley, Christopher Molina and Keelin Spencer
(L-R): Santa Monica College electrical engineering major Michael Saldivar, SMC renewable energy professor Stuart Cooley, SMC students Christopher Molina and Keelin Spencer in Washington, D.C. It was Saldivar’s first time on a plane and in the capital for a conference organized by the American Association of Community Colleges and the National Science Foundation.
Sustainable Technologies
SMC Sustainable Technologies students at work on solar panels. Students can pick from a number of innovative environmental courses and programs, including the state’s first Associate degrees in Recycling and Resource Management and in Solar Photovoltaic Installation.

“I had never been on a plane before, so my nerves were all over the place!” said Santa Monica College (SMC) student Michael Saldivar, who flew to Washington, DC, in late October to present an innovative photovoltaic project at the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) conference organized by the American Association of Community Colleges and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Saldivar—an electrical engineering major enrolled in SMC’s Sustainable Technologies program—shared a presentation booth with fellow SMC student Christopher Molina at the conference. They demonstrated how to determine the maximum electrical output of a solar cell—an electrical device that converts sunlight directly into electricity—to hundreds of attendees from across the nation.

The demonstration was based on training modules developed for a photovoltaic class by SMC physics professor Steve Paik, with contributions by SMC Math professor Ebrahim Jahangard. The multi-departmental effort at SMC began more than two years ago with Enhancing Solar Photovoltaic Education, an NSF grant that provided funding for outreach to 750 high school students, and developed internships to place 15 students on career paths in the solar industry.

SMC’s nationally recognized Sustainable Technologies program was launched in response to the rapidly expanding need for skilled workers in the green jobs sector. The program provides students with topflight training for employment in solar energy, recycling, resource management, and other sustainability-oriented industries.

About one out of every 83 new jobs created in the U.S. is a solar job, according to a 2015 National Solar Jobs Census conducted by The Solar Foundation. The aggregate growth rate of jobs in the solar industry was just over 20 percent last year.

“Our students frequently land a job before the end of even one semester!” says Stuart Cooley, SMC renewable energy professor and NSF-grant Principal Investigator who also attended the ATE conference and presented on technology he uses in his classes at SMC, such as a 360° Virtual Reality camera. “Increasingly more companies are recognizing the value of a multi-skilled worker who can address several aspects of sustainability, not just one.”

SMC’s Sustainable Technologies Program offers students the opportunity to gain industry-recognized credentials through certificates of achievement and department certificates in Solar Photovoltaic Installation and Recycling & Resource Management, and a department certificate in Energy Efficiency. Students can also earn an Associate degree in Solar PV Installation and in Recycling & Resource Management, a workforce development program established by a U.S. Department of Labor grant and pioneered by Santa Monica College.

Students enrolled in these programs at SMC can progress at their own pace, and can enter and leave the program as their personal and professional needs change. To develop internships and volunteer opportunities for SMC students, the college partners with local installation companies like Solar City and nonprofits like Grid Alternatives, which installs solar panels on low-income homes.

This innovative program is just one facet of SMC’s widely recognized campus-wide sustainability efforts. In 2015, the college won the Community College Leadership Award in Resource Management from the nonprofit Green Technology for establishing a resource management program on campus through its Center for Environmental and Urban Studies (CEUS) and Facilities Department; in 2014, SMC became the first community college in California — and one of only two nationally — to earn a “Bronze” designation for a bike-friendly campus from the League of American Bicyclists.

Along with the CEUS—which also serves as the home of Sustainable Works, a nonprofit contracted by the City of Santa Monica—SMC offers a ‘live laboratory,’ an organic learning garden, a recycling program for electronic waste, commercial worm composting, and many other opportunities for students to become environmental thought-and-action leaders.

“SMC has a very student-friendly environment,” says Saldivar. “The professors actually care about students, and there are plenty of resources, lots of extracurricular clubs and activities that you can get involved with.”

The college’s dynamic student-run clubs offers ways for students to acquire and cultivate knowledge of sustainability practices. Club Grow works with SMC’s Organic Learning Garden; the Eco-Action Club coordinates SMC’s annual Earth Week and Sustainability Week activities; Plastic Free SMC aims to reduce the use of plastic on campus; the Bike Club does free repairs and encourages ridership; and the Green Hype Club aims to make “green” trendy by helping raise environmental awareness through music and art events.

Santa Monica College has also woven sustainability into classes across several disciplines, including biology, psychology, fashion, film, and even English, where students read such books like Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, one of the early harbingers of environmental awareness. In addition to the Career Technical Education offerings, SMC also offers Associate degrees in Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, and Public Policy.

Visit for more information on the Sustainable Technologies Program, and to see which classes are available for the winter and spring semesters (Winter session begins Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 and Spring begins Monday, Feb. 13, 2017). For more information on SMC’s Sustainable Technologies offerings, contact Stuart Cooley at or call (310) 434-8721.