BESP program lays foundation for skilled workers

Photo courtesy of Bruno Lopez-Vega. B.E.S.P. students learning through hands-on activities in the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Electricity II shop.

BY BRUNO LOPEZ-VEGA

STUDENT CONTRIBUTOR

Although College of the Desert offers a variety of certificates and degrees, there are none quite like the Building Energy Systems Professional Associates Degree (commonly known as the B.E.S.P.).

Designed by COD’s applied sciences instructors and recently implemented, B.E.S.P. offers students the opportunity to explore the many different aspects of building construction with an additional focus on energy conservation, efficiency and sustainability.

The core is simple. It includes classes meant to lay the groundwork for a future skilled technician: A basic math class for industrial calculations, soft skills to produce professional workers, blueprint reading to understand the language of the trade and energy codes to keep up to date with current standards, and energy systems work experience.

The most experimental of the core, however, would be Zero Net Energy Building Science, a class with four different instructors to walk students throughout the building process from many different perspectives. Planning, material construction, air conditioning and energy usage; all instructors place great emphasis on building energy efficiency, and all will tell you their section is the most important.

But the real strength of B.E.S.P. comes in the form of its specialties. After completing the core, students may choose any of the 11 different stackable specialty pathways that cover a great depth of study and offer many various opportunities to lead as a building energy systems professional. These specialties include residential solar, building energy consulting, construction management and even more programs being developed. Students may combine multiple specialties; however, they feel it benefits them as well.

COD professor Ramiro Galicia, one of B.E.S.P.’s many framers, explained how they recognized the need for such a program, “We started as technicians going up to architects and designers, and throughout those levels, we started seeing all the gaps that were there job opportunities. When codes were implemented, everybody in California assumed contractors would abide by them. Still, the reality is that inspectors go out in the field, and most of this stuff isn’t done correctly. Energy codes move fast. All these new positions and jobs, HERS raters, energy auditors, were born from the need for adherence to the code, so we need students to become the bridge between the skilled laborer and engineer, to do tests and checks.”

The jobs were being filled before now. Still, according to Galicia, the solution wasn’t the best, “You don’t need higher than a bachelor’s degree to do this type of work, but many overqualified workers were being sent to do this work because there was no one else. Highly trained and educated specialists catching oversights isn’t economically feasible because it costs too much time and money to get to that point to do something they’re overqualified for. Someone with an associates can do this work just as good and be paid well.”

B.E.S.P. opens up a world of opportunity for those that see it’s value. However, it doesn’t get much recognition outside of Applied Sciences, and most incoming students will not have heard of it when deciding their major at COD. Galicia recognizes this and hopes to advertise it more aggressively, “I believe it needs to be pushed. I know students are already overburdened, but if you can couple this degree with a theoretical degree, you appear much more attractive. If I could, I’d have it at the tip of the tongue of every counselor.”

With this program, students pursuing careers as technicians can take the extra step to prepare themselves for overseer positions, and through it’s stackable specialties, make themselves even more competitive by accruing many skills. 

At around 60 units to complete, students can also obtain this degree very quickly compared to others which, would net the same work. As B.E.S.P. expands and enters the minds of new first-year students, these positions can be filled by eager technicians ready to earn their keep with what they learned at COD.

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