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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

Shaping Sustainability: MATC educates students who are building Milwaukee’s greener future.

Sep 28, 2012 05:04PM ● By Linda Sechrist

As recently as two decades ago, sustainable business was still in its infancy. An aspiring entrepreneur who wanted to discuss the financing of a green business with a banker would probably have endured skepticism and rejection. Today, thanks to visionary business owners who anticipated solid green opportunities on the horizon, as well as innovative colleges with a pioneering training curriculum, such as Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and its Center for Energy Conservation and Advanced Manufacturing (ECAM), sustainable business can anticipate a more positive lending experience and brighter future.

Several developments are enabling this change: Green businesses, like the 50 named in 2006 by Inc. magazine, are reporting profits. Additionally, sustainable firms can now hire individuals that have acquired their education and hands-on experience by working in high-tech training labs such as ECAM’s digital control lab, geothermal system, solar thermal system and new wind turbine, as well as Wisconsin’s largest photovoltaic field, located at Johnson Controls Corporate Headquarters, in Glendale.

Creating an Innovative Curriculum

The confluence of cutting-edge energy engineering technologies at ECAM provides courses that offer certification for careers in areas such as facilities operations, renewable and alternative energy, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), energy auditing, electric utility microgrids and intelligent lighting. All are part of a thoughtfully designed curriculum developed in response to the need for a green economy: eco-products, innovation, green manufacturing and jobs, energy conservation, efficiency, renewable energy and other related subjects.

One of the most influential individuals involved in the development of this curriculum is Joseph Jacobsen, Ph.D., author of Sustainable Business and Industry: Designing and Operating for Social and Environmental Responsibility. The Associate Dean of Environmental Studies at MATC, who also serves as director of ECAM, Jacobsen developed the first

Dr. Joseph Jacobsen
Dr. Joseph Jacobsen
degree in Sustainable Facilities Operations in the U.S. and is currently working to expand coursework in Power Engineering, Advanced Energy Engineering Technology and Quality Engineering Technology.

His book, used in college and university classrooms, exposes readers to financially, environmentally and socially responsible objectives that are supported by strategies and achieved by clear tactics with measurable outcomes, improved profit margins and financial stability over the long run. Jacobsen explores why we need to responsibly manage natural resources and address social issues such as population growth and the demands created by the migration to mega-cities. He also offers creative solutions. “When people read my book, they understand that creating green industries and green jobs isn’t about wanting to hug trees; rather, it’s about understanding our natural environment, people and our long-term survival,” he advises.

The innovative curriculum that Jacobsen helped design for ECAM has attracted favorable international attention, too. Recently, Her Excellency Mwanaidi Sinare Maajar, Ambassador from the United Republic of Tanzania, visited the facilities with the intention of returning home to adopt it so her nation can develop alternative and renewable energy as well as resource management to help shape a sustainable future and compete in the 21st-century world economy.

Developed in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and local firms such as Johnson Controls, ECAM’s curriculum allows MATC students to transfer their work toward a degree at UWM. The program requires skills in science and math, two subjects that Jacobsen holds dear and regularly uses as an adjunct professor at Concordia University Wisconsin’s graduate school, as well as the American Society for Quality, headquartered in Milwaukee, where he teaches decision sciences, managerial economics and sustainable business. He sees the mastery of math and science as critical to the study, measurement and development of sustainable business and energy technologies.

Providing Opportunities for Green Jobs

Jacobsen’s career in higher education focusing on sustainability has evolved from his work as the city manager for Milwaukee, where he developed ways to reduce the energy footprint of 220 buildings with a fleet of 1,200 vehicles. After 10 years with the city, he had plenty of hands-on experience with digital systems, energy management and performance MATC Pre-Collegeand real-time data acquisition. This set the stage for his book and his work with MATC, which plays an increasingly vital role in improving Milwaukee’s college degree attainment levels and providing tens of thousands of citizens with an opportunity to receive the education and skills needed to succeed in today’s—and tomorrow’s—economy. The school, which serves approximately 47,000 students annually at its four campuses in downtown Milwaukee, Mequon, Oak Creek and West Allis, offers 200 associate degree, technical diploma, certificate and apprentice programs.

“In my first months with MATC, I launched courses for ECAM’s Sustainable Facilities Operation associate degree, because I had already seen the emerging job market for people trained in this area of expertise. I also knew that the projected employment outlook in the field of sustainable facilities operations and management was going to be very strong and that first-line supervisors/managers of maintenance mechanics, installers, building service workers and repair technicians were going to be in demand,” says Jacobsen, who notes that the energy systems and sustainability industry expects to add more than 100,000 new employees during the next decade.

Addressing the Skills Gap

According to Jacobsen, as thousands of Baby Boomers retire and take their experience with them, the skills gap in the workforce needs to be filled quickly with trained individuals who can help to advance technology for renewable and alternative energy, digital control of electro-mechanical systems and sustainable businesses. “Unfortunately, at the same time that we have high unemployment, we also have job vacancies and an unskilled labor force, many without a high school education, that can’t fill them,” he advises.

Students without a high school diploma can forge a path to academic success and jobs with benefits and family-supporting wages at the MATC School of Pre-College Education, which offers opportunities that are separate from the associate degrees, technical diplomas and certifications available at MATC’s School of Technology and Applied Sciences. At the Pre-College, students can begin with General Education Development (GED) assistance and testing or English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and ladder themselves into training for green occupations and fouryear degrees, or beyond to graduate school. With an enrollment of thousands of students, MATC’s Pre-College education plays a crucial role in the community.MATC ECAM

Jacobsen relates to the pre-college students on a personal level. “I dropped out of school in the 9th grade, I grew up on welfare and I was homeless for a while. My father died of an overdose of heroine and I experimented with drugs,” he recounts. At 26, while working as a drummer, he became determined to change his lifestyle. Aware that his path at that time had only two endings—jail or death—Jacobsen turned his eyes to a better future and enrolled in the pre-college program at MATC. He used his compulsiveobsessive behavior to study and put himself through school with jobs as an electrician, boiler operator and janitor. “I cleaned thousands of toilet seats to work my way through school,” he says.

While Jacobsen never looked back, he also never anticipated a future that included earning a Ph.D., writing books or traveling to consult on energy innovation projects such as the Pittsburg Gateways Power Academy, which adopted the MATC curricula he created. “As I finished one degree, then a second and third, I discovered that not only did I have a thirst for knowledge, but also that the more I learned, the less I knew. The process of learning gave me the ability to change something about myself that was meaningful and drove the new direction of my life,” explains Jacobsen, who has no reservations about telling his story. “If it helps someone step out of their comfort zone and move forward, then it’s a story worth telling because we need more creative and talented people in the green energy jobs pipeline,” he remarks. “Because of the fierce global competition in these industries, we need educated and experienced people who can jump in and do the work. The transition to a new economy supported by green energy and technology is critical.”

Melding Meaningful Work with Job Satisfaction

“I find it very inspiring to see our graduates with associate degrees, technical diplomas and certificates enjoying job satisfaction, rather than just collecting a paycheck. They are doing something good for the environment and for society,” advises Jacobsen, citing the example of a student who landed a job at Rockwell Automation as the head of utility management Center for Energy Conservationfor the entire organization.

Because local companies are in need of LEED-accredited professionals, many students with degrees from other colleges and universities enroll at MATC for a second degree, specific credits or certifications that will make them more attractive job applicants. One of Jacobsen’s favorite stories is about a student who already had a degree in mechanical engineering. Initially unemployed when he enrolled at MATC, he later secured a position with Johnson Controls as a measurement verification specialist. Jacobsen says, “That student may very well climb the ladder of success due to his degree in mechanical engineering, but it was the MATC degree that got him his foot in the door.”

Jacobsen also believes that creative thinking is vital for fostering innovation and developing ideas into marketable products and services. “We need pioneers with a, ‘Let’s figure out how to go where no one has gone before,’ attitude to balance out those who only want to put a new twist on what we’ve done before,” he advises.

For more information on MATC, visit or call 414-297-MATC. For information on the Center for Energy Conservation and Advanced Manufacturing (ECAM) programs, visit or call 414-571-4714.