July 29, 2011 | Industry Events + Conferences, Leadership

Because the venue and the event itself were new to me, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sometimes I find that it’s good to have no or low expectations for first-time experiences – it makes it that much more enjoyable.

I can now say that I’ve been to Iowa, specifically to the charming and up-to-the-minute college town of Iowa City. Until last month, this would not have been true. However, in June I had the opportunity, with a few colleagues, to participate in the first ever American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) University Summit  that was hosted on the University of Iowa campus.

No matter what my expectations may have been, this event certainly exceeded them.

The Gist

The summit was intended to bring together – in the same room, for two full days – members from the wind energy industry and from academia. As a collective group, our task was to identify needs for educational programs in the industry and to collaborate on ways to build successful partnerships between the industry and academia, for the purpose of building a skilled workforce in the industry.

This is no small feat and no simple assignment. And, clearly, it marked the start of a path that can lead in numerous different directions.

Some things I learned in two days:

    • There were about 100 attendees registered. About 70% were from academia and 30% from industry.  This turned out just fine, but there is a great opportunity here for more participation from the wind industry. I’d love to see more of that in the future.
    • The academic folks that attended – mostly from the mid-west but some from other areas of theU.S.– showed tremendous enthusiasm for wind science and technology and for partnering with businesses.
    • I heard examples of many ways that schools and businesses are already working together to develop skilled workforces.
    • There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many different things that may work depending on location, state public policy, business needs and culture, existing academic resources, and many other factors.
    • University and industry folks have similar and difficult challenges. Having said that, it’s not easy to bring these two divergent groups together to problem-solve. In some ways it feels like our two worlds are very different.

But… it doesn’t really have to be difficult.

The Road Ahead

As with most things, success in moving forward is rooted in the relationships, and the willingness for each side to walk in their counterpart’s shoes, at least for a few steps. This is totally possible and I saw glimmers of it at the summit.

I came away from this trip wondering if the task has been made too complex, too complicated. University leaders were clear that they wanted to know precisely what they should be teaching students so they can graduate with the skills needed to work in the wind industry.

The answer is simple and yet not so simple: They need the same skills that someone wanting to work in any other technology- or science-based industry needs – the ability to problem-solve, innovate, communicate, collaborate, learn, influence. I could go on and on.

Sure, it’s true that the wind energy industry is relatively young. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a uniqueness or exclusivity about people working in the industry. When I imagine a university developing and then spitting out a “wind energy expert,” I don’t really know how different this person looks from any other person graduating in a technology field. And we really don’t have to be different.

Until Next Time

I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in the University Summit, and look forward to future AWEA events like this. I would even go back to Iowa City--not at all a bad place to be.