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Biofuels Education at Southeastern Illinois College

Those looking for a better understanding of the ethanol and biodiesel industry can find what they’re looking for at Southeastern Illinois College. It has offered a certificate in biofuels since fall 2011 with a grant from the U.S. Labor Department.

While the general public usually views biofuels as something “outside of their experience,” instructor Renee Loesche noted that 10 percent of gasoline is blended.

“Because of the ups and downs of the industry over the last 40 years, there are misconceptions about its durability,” she said. “These courses are meant to dispel myths and provide a strong basis of understanding of the industries and their production processes.”

A total of 54 students have either taken classes or earned a certificate in the program so far. Many are already working in the industry, although some high school students have taken the courses for college credit and done well, Loesche said. Most are not traditional students.

“We’ve had plant operators, plant managers, human resource personnel, bench chemists responsible for fuel testing, veterans looking for a career pathway, and those with a general interest,” she noted. “Those in the field have shown appreciation for the course and many keep in touch to discuss technological and regulatory changes.”

The program is 100% online, allowing students to take classes as they have time. The four required courses can be completed in as little as nine months.

In a new grant-funded program, “Building Illinois Bioeconomics,” the goal is to reduce the completion time to six months while keeping the same high quality.

“We have ethanol producers, biorefineries and national associations who have committed to providing content reviews and consider graduates when hiring,” Loesche said. She added that SIC is working with U.S.-based producers/employers, national biofuel associations and the U.S. Department of Labor to develop a standardized biofuels education program. That could lead eventually to a national certification.

The program was funded with a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training grant through the Labor Department.

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