counting up the firsts

Crowder College’s major-league milestones from the ’70s to today

1978 Offers first solar design and practicum courses

1984 Builds the first solar-powered vehicle to cross the continental US

1990 Selected as one of 32 teams to participate in the General Motors Sun Race, in which Crowder places fifth overall but first in innovative design

1992 Designated as the Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology (MARET) Center

2002 Wins first place in Energy Balance and sixth place overall in the Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC

2008 Sponsors and organizes the North American Solar Challenge, a 2,000-mile solar-car race from Dallas to Canada

2009 Breaks ground on the now LEED Platinum-certified MARET Center facility

Most people haven’t heard of Neosho, Missouri. The town has a population of 11,835 and is located roughly halfway between Springfield, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma—central to almost nothing. Almost.

Crowder College—a school established in 1963 on the site of the former Fort Crowder in Neosho—is a national focal point of alternative energy research and education. It’s completed one LEED Platinum project, and it’s working on another as part of the same initiative. Art Boyt, a professor at Crowder from 1978 to 2008 and the program chair of the college’s alternative-energy studies, says that the agrarian and independent ethos of the region has lent itself to the success of Crowder’s efforts. In other words, sustainability isn’t remotely a new idea for the 5,400-student college.

In 1984, a small team from Crowder was the first to design, build, and drive a solar-powered car across the United States. The achievement was spearheaded by Boyt, and it set a new national record, established a distinguished standard for alternative energy innovation, and made Crowder a key player in the international sustainability scene. Today Crowder’s reputation is well established, its progressive research initiatives continually championed by the school and the growing team of sponsors and researchers who support it.

“The programs and the solar competitions we participated in from early on brought a lot of relationships and resources into the college from well outside the community,” Boyt says. “We were working with companies from around the world. The reputation and notoriety of the college spread well beyond what you’d expect from a small-town college.”

It was this notoriety that earned the school an integral designation from the State of Missouri in 1992, which established at Crowder the official Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology (MARET) Center. “It added to the momentum of everything we were doing,” Boyt says. “Photovoltaic application, solar competitions, and creating new career and certification programs in response to a growing profession.”

In 2002—the same year Crowder participated in its first Solar Decathlon—the college began the first phase of construction on the MARET Center building, which would host an array of diverse alternative energy, green building, and sustainable programs. Phase I was completed in 2012. The 10,000-square-foot, LEED Platinum project includes geothermal wells, an ERV system, a 65-kilowatt Nordtank wind turbine, and various sustainable materials. Phase II, currently underway, will add an additional 17,000 square feet of classroom, auditorium, and demonstration space.

The MARET Center building also includes a 286-panel rooftop photovoltaic system installed by Boyt’s new company, SolSource Greenbuild, which he founded in 2008 when he ‘retired’ from Crowder. “I still do work at Crowder, but from the other side,” Boyt says. “It’s really cool doing things from the commercial end; it brings things into fruition I couldn’t do from the teaching side.”

Executive director Russell Hopper describes the MARET Center as a test bed of new technologies, including alternative types of solar panels, solar heating systems, battery systems, and energy storage. “It makes the technology accessible and hands-on,” he says, “which is integral for our programs.”