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UC Jumpstarts Charge of Educating Future Energy Workforce


University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science offers the first Energy and Materials Engineering undergraduate degree program in the United States.

Date: 2/18/2010 12:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826

UC ingot   As attention throughout the United States and the world focuses on solving the energy crisis, the nation’s universities are charged to develop programs that will deliver researchers who can solve these energy problems and graduates who can work on the engineered solutions. One university is ahead of the pack: the University of Cincinnati (UC).

UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science has created the nation’s first baccalaureate undergraduate degree program in energy and materials engineering (EME) and is now accepting applicants.

Makram Suidan and Pablo Campo, an environmental engineering PhD student
Makram Suidan and Pablo Campo, an environmental engineering PhD student. (Photo by Lisa Ventre)

“No field is more vital to our country’s economic expansion than energy — the ability to generate, store, distribute and utilize energy efficiently,” says Makram Suidan, director of the School of Energy, Environmental, Biological and Medical Engineering, which will house the EME program.

EME graduates will be able to apply their skills to a variety of engineering and scientific careers in fields as diverse as aerospace, automotive, nanotechnology, medicine, biotechnology and energy. Selected core course topics include fuel cells, solar power generation and photovoltaic cells, hydrogen production and storage, carbon management and environmental impact, energy economics and conservation, batteries and storage, wind and geothermal, fossil power generation, bio-fuels /algae, nanomaterials and energy systems.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Secretary and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu was recently quoted as saying, “… alternative and renewable energy [will] reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create millions of new jobs.”

President Obama, in his January 2010 announcement of tax credits for the clean-energy manufacturing sector, said, “Building a robust clean energy sector is how we will create the jobs of the future — jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.  But it’s also how we will reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, a dependence that endangers our economy and our security.  And it is how we will combat the threat of climate change and leave our children a planet that’s safer than the one we inherited.”

Yet Undersecretary of Energy Kristina Johnson, in a follow-up videoconference, noted that one of the main problems facing the United States at the same time is a “brain drain” in the form of an aging workforce who were drawn into energy careers during the energy crisis of the 1970s. Those idealists of the ’60s and ’70s are now workers in their 60s and 70s who are about to retire.

Governor Ted Strickland enjoyed test driving UC's soy-fueled Jeep on a 2007 visit.
Governor Ted Strickland enjoyed test driving UC's soy-fueled Jeep on a 2007 visit. (Photo by Katie Hageman)

“Forty to sixty percent of the energy workforce will retire in four years,” Johnson stated.

And in the Midwest, as pointed out in Governor Ted Strickland’s 2010 State of the State address, Ohio is leading the way.

“I believe in Ohio because we are not sitting back and letting other states pass us by,” Strickland said. “We are taking the vital next steps to advance our energy economy.”

UC’s program in Energy and Materials Engineering meets these challenges with contemporary curriculum and cooperative work assignments highlighted by “green energy” technologies centered on innovative materials and alternative energy sources. Students will study an array of topics including diverse energy production, conversion and storage opportunities covering fossil fuels, nuclear, wind, solar, water, geothermal, biomass and chemical sources. Each presents its own set of technical, environmental and economic challenges.

“This program will produce a student who understands the gamut of energy issues: traditional, advanced, alternative, green and storage,” says Suidan.

Co-op students worked with Duke Energy at Zimmer Power Plant. (Photo by Lisa Ventre)
Co-op students worked with Duke Energy at Zimmer Power Plant. (Photo by Lisa Ventre)

As with UC’s other engineering programs, all EME students participate in co-op program beginning as early as the winter quarter of their second year. The University of Cincinnati founded cooperative education in 1906 and its co-op program is ranked in the top five nationally. Through co-op, students gain paid, professional experience working as engineers while still enrolled as undergraduates. A minimum of four co-op quarters must be completed for graduation.

Suidan is excited about the new program, especially given parallel pushes in the Obama administration to solve the nation’s energy problems.

“This 21st century degree ensures that graduates have the background and engineering expertise to immediately address today’s and tomorrow’s energy and materials challenges.”

Related 2009 UC News Releases:

Sustaining the Urban Environment Named an Advanced Energy Center of Excellence at the University of Cincinnati
Governor Ted Strickland and the Ohio Board of Regents name nine centers of excellence at eight universities across Ohio.
Professor Vesco Shanov explains the concept of race cars powered by proton exchange membrane fuel cells to student Elizabeth Morris. (Photo by Dottie Stover)
Professor Vesco Shanov explains the concept of race cars powered by proton exchange membrane fuel cells to student Elizabeth Morris. (Photo by Dottie Stover)


The New Energy Crisis: Power Industry to Need Workers
In the current economic climate where job losses only seem to grow, the latest energy industry predictions show that utilities and power plants face a significant worker shortage by 2013.

Check out the EME brochure. [pdf]

Contact the College of Engineering and Applied Science