Let's Clear the Air: Alternative Propulsion Systems Becomes Postsecondary Course Offering January 2012

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 Technical Articles
Let's Clear the Air: Alternative Propulsion Systems Becomes Postsecondary Course Offering January 2012

Let’s Clear the Air: Alternative Propulsion Systems Becomes Postsecondary Course Offering January 2012

By Jason Gaschel
Professor of Automotive Technology, Seminole State College of Florida, a National Training Center of the NAFTC

Seminole State College of Florida Automotive Professor Jason Gaschel, right, offers instruction on hybrid technologies during a course Jan. 20.

This year marks a real turning point in the United States. For years, I have been predicting that major changes in vehicle propulsion – on the manufacturer level – were right around the corner, and it seems that we may finally be there. In 2012, there will be more electric vehicle offerings hitting the North American market than ever before. The electrification of the electric car is finally gaining national traction. With oil prices fluctuating and the uncertainty that remains in the Middle East, hybrid and electric vehicles are beginning to make more sense to sections of the vehicle market that would not have considered this in the past.   Because there are many ways to alternatively power a vehicle, offering only one simple course to teach technicians how to work on alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles safely will be challenging. This initial course is a good starting point to begin the process of teaching future technology at the college level. Career and technical education programs have a responsibility to expose their students to the latest technology that they will undoubtedly see upon graduation or during their internships, and a new course is a great way to showcase the changes in our industry.   Dealerships and repair centers need more advocates. The public still lacks detailed knowledge about how alternative fuel vehicles differ from conventional platforms and needs sound education to become familiar and become aware of any safety precautions. Trained salespeople and technicians can help with this process. But, how will they gain this training?   Pulling from the vast resources and training opportunities I have gained by joining the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium, I have been experimenting with the integration of hybrid information into our degree programs. The most difficult part has been topic placement. For any given class, there are few hours that I can dedicate to this topic. During the last three years, I have integrated lessons titled “Introduction to Hybrid Vehicles,” “Safety and High-Voltage Disconnect Procedures” and “Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology.” The course into which I integrated these lectures is called Electronics and Chassis Electronics.   Before I could start, however, I needed equipment. There are many ways to obtain components and vehicles for this type of training. My advice is to explore them all. Our department was allocated certain funds to purchase an imported vehicle, and I was able to make this purchase fit our needs by purchasing two imported hybrid vehicles, with money left over to buy hybrid tool sets and insulation testing meters. I accomplished this by shopping for the vehicles that made the most sense and by not considering any low-mileage vehicles. I found a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid with 92,000 miles and a 2004 Toyota Prius with 80,000 miles. If I had purchased vehicles with lower mileage, I would not have had the extra money to obtain the additional equipment.   During the same time period, I was able to secure funding to start our electric vehicle project, a student designed and built project that would last the entire school year. The majority of the work was performed after class, during lunch or when the involved students had completed their assignments early. The wiring, schematic development and vehicle design elements were completed during electrical classes. It was a great experience, but we did not officially have a class to teach the necessary fundamentals.   Recently, we started the process of creating a stand-alone course for Alternative Fuel and Propulsion Systems for our degree programs. The Florida framework requires the degree program include no more than 72 credit hours, so we would not be able to simply add the class. We needed to perform a thorough revision of the entire program and how we deliver it.   Several meetings needed to take place. We determined how to rearrange the program to make room for the new course. We evaluated existing courses during which National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) standards were taught more than once. We freed up two credit hours (60 contact hours) to be used in the new course. This process gave us the idea to make future modifications to streamline the entire program, and we developed course objectives and a topical outline during this step. Drawing from training and conversations with other NAFTC members, I was able to develop a clear topic and learning outcome list. Once this process was complete, we had a faculty meeting to present the proposed changes, and everyone approved. We then received approval from our Advisory Committee during its fall meeting. With their blessing, we actively pursued the implementation of this curriculum change.   This is a process that takes time, and there are procedures and forms with deadlines that must be submitted in adherence to these rules. These timeframes and procedures will vary at individual institutions. At our school, curriculum change has a submission deadline of January if proposed changes are to be included in the next catalog. Our goal is to begin teaching this class in spring of 2013 as a second semester, sophomore level course. If the course fit into the fall term course load, we could have essentially started in fall of 2012. This still gives us a year to prepare the lesson plans and include any updates that occur during this year.   As a department, we are very excited to offer this course as a part of our degree program. This initial course could lead to future course changes to implement an increased level of alternative fuel content.   Jason Gaschel is a Professor of Automotive Technology at Seminole State College of Florida, where he specializes in General Motors products and alternative propulsion systems. He is ASE Master and L1 Certified. Seminole State College of Florida is an NAFTC National Training Center.