A "Green" Degree

November 10, 2008

Red means go at NC State, but it's green on the minds of university leaders who envision a one-of-a-kind degree for graduate students with an interest in renewable and sustainable energy.

In response to an increasing number of environmental concerns at the global level, as well as a decreasing amount of depletable resources like coal, petroleum and natural gas, leaders at NC State's College of Engineering have been hard at work discussing what could become the first renewable-energy Master's degree program offered at any American university or college.

"Right here, in this College of Engineering, our students, our faculty and our staff are making real differences in setting the stage for products to improve our energy, sustainability and our environment," NC State chancellor James L. Oblinger said.

Windmills like this can help engineers harness one of nature's renewable, sustainable energy resources.
Windmills like this can help engineers harness one of nature's renewable, sustainable energy resources.

Beginning next semester, NC State will offer a 400-level course called Introduction to Renewable Energy Systems to its students. A second course, focusing on a variety of advanced power delivery infrastructure issues, will be added in Fall 2009, leading up to what Dr. Mesut Baran, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NC State, hopes will be the official launch of a new degree track next fall.

"One of the premier engineering publications said that these are issues of great interest to many students, but that universities have been slow to respond to their needs," Baran said. "We will be very proactive in our efforts."

As they go forward with their plans, Baran and others in the College of Engineering will weigh feedback and input from more than 60 industry-leading companies to ensure that the new coursework gives NC State students the tools they need to succeed in the ever-evolving, renewable-energy workplace.

"I've worked at Duke Energy for about a year, and I hope to work there after I graduate," said Kai Hinger ('10), an electrical engineering major who participates in NC State's Cooperative Education Program (Co-op). "NC State is on the cutting edge, in terms of where the world is going, and this coursework is just another example of that fact.

"Having worked in the power industry, I've seen the change that is coming in regards to renewable resources, and if we're the first to help people begin to make those changes, that will be great."

The potential of this "green energy" curriculum - coupled with news that NC State will host a national, renewable-energy research center on Centennial Campus - has already raised the eyebrows of prospective students interested in attending NC State for both graduate and undergraduate degrees.

"The new renewable energy program will definitely be of interest to students interested in technical aspects of power and energy but who also bear a desire to do something to improve the world in which we live," said Sharon Schulze, director of The Science House, which partners with K-12 teachers across the state to promote hands-on inquiry-based science learning. "Some students may be thinking of future generations, but the beauty of the research being done now is that the future is well within their lifetime.

"Casting NC State as the place to be to study the most critical scientific problems of our day will put the university in a light that is very attractive to a variety of students."

By Dave Pond, Web Communication