After years of university investments into clean energy education, Massachusetts Maritime Academy students spent the summer training and interning in the growing industry of offshore wind.
Three undergraduate students spent this summer interning at Vineyard Wind, an offshore wind development company headquartered in New Bedford. These internships mark the first time academy students worked with the energy company.
Additionally, the university’s certified Global Wind Organization training facility was back up and running after being shut down last year due to COVID-19. The center offers a 40-hour basic safety training course both for matriculated university students and for anyone looking to enter or is already in the business.
Many offshore wind companies require GWO certification for their employees, so having a facility nearby that has the resources and instructors to administer this training is an important part of the growing New England industry, instructor Megan Amsler said.
The center offers five modules: Working at Heights, First Aid, Fire Awareness, Manual Handling and Sea Survival. The university received funding from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center in 2018 to build the facility, which includes a working at heights facility, a crew transfer training facility and a crew transfer training vessel.
Training was put on hold, however, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since reopening this summer, the center has had about 90 students complete the course. Some offshore wind companies and unions have sent their employees to the facility to go over the safety basics, while others are entering the industry for the first time.
The working at heights facility has three different types of ladders that workers might encounter inside a wind turbine. Ms. Amsler said students learn how to use equipment, climb up and down safety, rescue themselves and a partner, and descend in an emergency.
“Even though it is just a mock situation that we’re dealing with, people usually still realize, like, ‘Wow, okay. All the things we take for granted when we’re standing on the ground don’t apply when you’re up there on a ladder hanging in a harness,’” Ms. Amsler said.
During sea survival training, students learn how to transfer safely from a boat onto the transition piece of a wind turbine. The transition piece sticks into the water for workers to climb into the turbine out at sea.
Ms. Amsler said there is a lot to learn about safely making this transition.
“You need to know how to trust yourself and make a judgment call if there are waves out there,” she said. “You need to know when is the best time to put your foot over and clip into the equipment that is going to help you climb up safely.”
GWO training also involves learning rescue descents into the ocean from a turbine, how to survive after abandoning a ship, fire safety, and more. The modules require some standard classroom instruction, but to be certified, students must also know what to do in the mock scenarios.
The instructor said her priority is to remind students that safety comes first, especially in a field as dangerous as offshore wind can be.
Before she taught the modules, Ms. Amsler worked with the university to set up the training facility in her role as the executive director of Self-Reliance, a nonprofit that specializes in renewable energy education.
Now that students can take full advantage of the resource, she said she is excited to see the industry continue to grow in New England—even right in the academy’s backyard.
Vineyard Wind, located 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, will be the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the United States when it is completed.
This summer, academy senior James Dignan, an emergency management major and homeland security minor, worked as a marine operations intern; senior Trevor Dunn, a facilities engineering major, served as an export cable packaging intern; and sophomore George Morant, an international maritime business major, interned as an offshore operations intern working for the construction manager at Vineyard Wind.
Students begin learning about offshore wind starting in their first year at the college. Both Mr. Dunn and Mr. Dignan said they became interested in the industry during their freshman year and have learned more about it in classes since.
Sara Kazamias, assistant director of career and professional services, said the academy has seven different majors, all of which have a different part to play in renewable energy.
“That’s the foundation of where we see our future in the academy,” she said. “It’s getting into these new energy sectors and using each one of our majors to help out in those arenas.”
Students at the maritime college are required to do three internships before they graduate as part of the academy’s “Learn, Do, Learn” moto. This policy emphasizes integrating what students learn in the classroom into hands-on workforce experience, then bringing that knowledge back to the classroom.
Mr. Dignan said in his position a marine operations intern he drew directly from the technical knowledge and problem-solving skills he developed in class. In his role, Mr. Dignan worked on emergency response plans and projects with the US Coast Guard.
He said it is an exciting time to be working in offshore wind.
“The industry has already started to take off and is only going to expand further in the next few years,” he said. “It’s good that the school is investing in a growing industry.”
Mr. Dignan is continuing his work with Vineyard Wind through the end of this month and said he hopes to join the company full-time after he graduates.
This summer was the second time Mr. Morant has interned with renewable energy company. He said he has always been passionate about the field and now, more than ever, knows it is what he wants to pursue in the future. Offshore wind is a combination of his interests in clean energy and maritime business.
He said it is exciting to attend a school that is investing in the same industry he hopes to go into. Mr. Morant recalled briefly speaking to Rear Admiral Francis X. MacDonald, the president of the Academy, at the Vineyard Wind project labor agreement in July and sharing in their enthusiasm.
“I was really grateful to say that I had a small part in the first project in the US, and I hope to put my name on many more in the future,” said Mr. Morant, who will continue to intern with Vineyard Wind through the fall.
Ms. Kazamias said many academy students are interested in pursuing careers in the clean energy sector.
“Our students don’t only have an eagerness to change the world as the enter the workforce, but they’re also groomed as leaders to make the kind of decisions they want to see for their generation,” she said.