Sean White, instructor of numerous HeatSpring courses, is a highly regarded expert who has worked with solar energy notables, authored popular books about solar PV and served on NAPCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) exam committees.
But what he really enjoys is engaging with his students, says the instructor of HeatSpring’s 40-Hour Advanced Solar PV Installer Training class (and many others).
As a teacher, he’s a communicative and accessible interpreter, comedian and author.
“The biggest thing that sets our courses apart from other courses is that I’m very interactive with students even though it’s online. You have me answering questions every day,” he says.
For example, a student recently emailed White and said he wanted to better understand the calculation White used in an exercise that involved sizing an electrical breaker. He asked White to explain how the National Electric Code called for this calculation.
White and the student communicated on a message board, with the HeatSpring instructor explaining in quite a bit of technical detail about the code requirements and breaker capacities, and providing an example.
“I give immediate feedback and give a lot of detail. I put a lot of time and thought into answering questions,” he says.
However, White puts much more than time and thought into his courses.
White, a graduate of San Francisco Comedy College, tries to inject a little humor into his lessons to engage students who find studying solar energy tedious at times.
“I throw in some things I learned in comedy college,” he says. “I always try to put something in there that catches people’s attention. My humor is dry, and it goes with the course.”
Meanwhile, White works hard to speak the language of his students, serving as interpreter for the super smart. Quoting Albert Einstein, he says, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, not simpler.”
For example, he once explained a trigonometry problem by using an “old hippy” joke. He was trying to help his students remember the formula for sine, cosine and tangent for the opposite, adjacent and hypotenuse sides of a right triangle, he says.
“The trig acronym was not invented by me, but here is the easy way to remember the formula: ‘Some Old Hippie Caught Another Hippie Tripping On Acid’…People never forget crazy stuff like that. I try to make it playful,” he says.
White appreciates the opportunity to teach for HeatSpring, where he has a fair amount of freedom to design and teach courses. “Working for HeatSpring, I don’t have to worry about strict requirements. I don’t have to stand in front of a green screen and have a camera on my face. People want to see my slides, not my face,” he says.
And HeatSpring appreciates having White as a team member. Says Duncan Miller, co-founder of HeatSpring, “Sean’s expertise comes in teaching complex concepts related to electricity, physics, engineering and business to adults whose formal education often only goes as far as high school. He also has a knack for connecting with students across a wide swath of backgrounds, nationalities, and levels of experience.”
What’s more, White offers to connect with each student on LinkedIn, and asked Miller to create a system to make these connections possible.
“He answers questions in amazing detail in his courses on the discussion board and responds typically within 24 hours and that’s 365 days a year since we have been working with him,” says Miller.
While students appreciate White’s humor, accessibility, dedication, and ability to explain technical information in easy-to-understand language, they also are drawn to his impressive background.
White, the 2014 Interstate Renewable Energy Council Trainer of the Year, is an ISPQ Certified Solar PV Master Trainer and has written several books about solar energy, including “Solar Photovoltaic Basics: A Study Guide for the NABCEP Entry Level Exam” and “Solar PV Engineering and Installation: Preparation for the NABCEP PV Installation Professional Certification.”
White contributed to the development of the NABCEP PV Installation Professional Job Task Analysis and has been a member of the NABCEP PV Installation Professional Technical Committee. He often teaches internationally, including National Electric Code workshops at solar conferences, along with Bill Brooks, a solar industry notable.
Brooks is a PV industry consultant known for creating a program in California that trained more than 7,000 inspectors, electricians and installers.
Part of sharing his expertise is helping students prepare for NABCEP exams, says White. He offers two courses with this goal: The first is the Boot Camp course, which allows solar businesses internationally to prepare to take the NABCEP Associate program exam, he says.
“For the Associate exam, someone could take a class that’s a week long and pass it,” White says.
The more comprehensive exam is the NABCEP PV Installation Professional Certification exam, and White’s 40-Hour Advanced Solar PV Installer Training Class qualifies for 40 hours of advanced training required for the exam.
“If you take both courses, that’s all the educational requirements you need for the NABCEP PV Installation exam,” he says.
And whether you’re in the US or abroad, that’s the exam you want to take.
“NABCEP focuses a lot on the National Electric Code, the most comprehensive electric code in the world,” he says. “Some countries have codes that no one follows.”
For example, in some countries, people say that it’s important to follow the guidelines of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), but that’s not a code for installing PV systems, White points out. “It’s more of a set of good ideas,” he says.
For people who want to teach solar PV classes in different countries, NABCEP is the number one certification organization for PV globally, he says.
“Everywhere I go, people want to get NABSEP certified. This exam makes you good anywhere in the world,” says White.
With his engaging style and deep background, White has managed to make many people “good anywhere in the world.” Hundreds of his students now work at both startup and leading solar companies.
Launching those students involved finding the right language to connect with them, White says.
“I take all this super smart engineering knowledge and make it simple to understand.”