Amanda Not Afraid (front) and another student in the DOE-sponsored algae internship program work on cultivating and characterizing oil-producing algae.
Washington, DC -Two Department of Energy (DOE)-supported programs are helping the Crow Tribe in Montana produce energy with minimal environmental impact, educate future generations, and prepare its community for future jobs in energy fields.
At the heart of the Work Readiness Program and the Cultivation and Characterization of Oil Producing Algae Internship are 6-week intensive courses of study that teach real-world skills and provide opportunities for academic and industrial advancement in science, math, and energy.
The programs are supported in part by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), as well as the Many Stars Project, Accelergy Inc., the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center, Little Big Horn College, and Montana State University. Ultimately, the two programs are helping the Crow Tribe take steps toward preserving local resources and jobs, and ultimately improving their reservation.
The Work Readiness Program teaches students classroom basics as well as specific job skills and how to apply these skills in a professional work setting. Students learn the basics of carpentry, welding, electrical work, rigging, reading blueprints, equipment operations, and safety standards. Students graduating from the program are well-positioned to help improve the quality of life within the reservation. For example, Fernando Long Soldier, a Crow Tribe member and program alumnus, is applying electrical skills learned in the program to infrastructure projects on the reservation, where he currently holds a supervisory position.
Members of the sponsoring organizations serve as teachers and mentors for the Work Readiness Program, but qualified Crow Tribe members are also encouraged to become instructors and contribute to the learning process. Robert Stewart, a Crow Tribe member and core education instructor for the program, helped design practical hands-on experiences, including an assigned task of building a 16-foot flatbed trailer. "When the class was finished building the trailer, they were so proud of themselves that they had actually built it and it worked," said Stewart. "They were telling each other they are going to start building and selling their own trailers. That’s what I wanted to hear!"
The Cultivation and Characterization of Oil Producing Algae Internship places students in a laboratory alongside established researchers to study local algae samples and evaluate their possible use in energy applications. The project focuses on Accelergy’s integrated coal-to-liquid (ICTL) technology, which reforms local Montana bituminous coal and indigenous biomass feeds, like algae, into a liquid that is economical to transport and use as fuel. The student interns are involved in every aspect of the research. During last summer’s program, students collected algae at two different pond sites outside of the reservation, built bioreactors to grow the algae, harvested the algae, and then freeze-dried their samples to check the algae for oil quantities that could be useful to the ICTL technology.
Crow Tribe member Amanda Not Afraid, who completed the algae internship, said her experiences taught her "to see all the opportunities that lie outside of the reservation and what skills it would take to succeed there." Since graduating from the program, Amanda has enrolled as a freshman at Little Big Horn College and is pursuing a degree in pre-medicine.
Acceptance into the two programs is competitive. Similar to applying for college, students are required to submit a packet of personal information, essays, and letters of recommendation which are reviewed by a board of four members. Of the 70 applicants in 2011, 45 were chosen and 38 graduated. The students who successfully completed the internship program are now in the workforce or attending one of the sponsoring institutions.
Because of the programs’ success, DOE has awarded additional funding to the algae internship, and outside funding was granted to Work Readiness Program, ensuring that both will be available to a new wave of students in summer 2012.