NEW ENERGY HOT IN HIGHER ED
College students flocking to 'clean energy' studies; Climate change is a concern among undergraduates, driving a surge of interest in science and engineering on campuses nationwide.
Jim Tankersley, March 29, 2009 (LA Times)
Courses and majors pertaining to New Energy are in demand among college undergraduates, according to authorities at a variety of schools including Arizona State University, Indiana University, the University of Colorado, UCLA and USC.
Growing interest in global climate change solutions is at the heart of the demand. The economic downturn has also had an impact, cooling the graduate business school ambitions of budding entrepreneurs.
Is New Energy the new Big Sport on campus? (click to enlarge)
At the same time, there is a growing need for new U.S. scientists and engineers.
The new wave of commitment to New Energy has not yet reached the graduate school level although innovative research is unlikely to come without training in science or engineering well beyond the undergraduate level.
The Obama administration’s legislative and policy initiatives include funding for New Energy research and development (R&D). The stimulus bill assigned $20 billion to support basic and applied science research. Much of that work is done by graduate students. The federal budget would triple graduate research fellowships.
U.S. graduate engineering program enrollment dropped more than 5% from 2003 to 2005 while China and South Korea increased the size and quality of their programs. Enrollment in U.S. graduate programs in science has doubled over the last 2 decades but more than half the students are foreign nationals and more and more of them are returning home when they graduate.
The retirement rate of U.S. scientists and engineers is also expected to triple in the next 10 years, adding to the need for a replacement force.
Without such a replacement workforce, the quality of U.S. innovation could suffer.
The solutions: (1) Get more U.S. undergrads into science and engineering. (2) Keep the foreign science and engineering students who come here for educations in the U.S. workforce.
The lure for both: Innovative graduate research leads to patents and patents lead to wealth and entrepreneurial power.
This is the impulse. (click to enlarge)
Some observers compare the interest in New Energy on college campuses to the time in the late 1950s when the Soviet Union’s launch of its Sputnik satellites sparked a rush to science and engineering careers on U.S. college campuses.
The current New Energy excitement reminds others of the post-9/11 increase in undergraduate military and law enforcement enlistments, a trend that quickly leveled off and then faded.
The current trend, however, may be more substantial.
To begin with, an idealistic commitment to New Energy is unlikely to get a kid killed. This helps keep the pool of talent at least alive.
The Obama administration is committed to funding a doubling of U.S. New Energy capacity in the next 3 years. It is also serious about passing climate change and energy legislation with incentives sure to spark a boom in New Energy. All this adds up to career opportunities for undergrads who prepare themselves accordingly.
The career opportunities are even greater because of a dearth of candidates and a workforce rapidly reaching retirement age.
This is the cause. (click to enlarge)
Effective innovation in New Energy will be crucial to bringing costs down and resolving the storage obstacle.
Keeping foreign students in this country is as easy as attaching citizenship papers to graduate degrees. What country wouldn’t want the cream of the foreign crop, bright enough to get into U.S. schools and courageous enough to face the journey and cultural challenges? Studies suggest they are exactly the people most likely to succeed.
Bottom line: The news is good. Solutions are available, funding is coming and “sustainability” is one of the most popular buzz words on campus these days.
The Obama administration is turning this around. (click to enlarge)
- Vijay K. Dhir, dean of the engineering school, UCLA: "We have a shortfall of people to do cutting-edge research and do the innovations we need…[But] the potential is there."
- President Obama, in a recent statement to academics and energy entrepreneurs visiting the White House: "…innovators like you are creating the jobs that will foster our recovery."
- 2008 National Science Board report: "[Without a replacement workforce] the rapid growth in [research and development] employment and spending that the United States has experienced since World War II may not be sustainable…"
He's still spreading the audacity. (click to enlarge)
- Karen Harbert, executive vice president and managing director, U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy: "The most critical challenge over the long-term is people and brainpower…"
- Yannis C. Yortsos, engineering dean, USC: "In the past, very talented kids would go into business school, to Wall Street, get big bonuses…That may not be the case for a while. They may go into engineering instead."
- Loni Iverson, 21, mechanical engineering senior, USC: "I became an engineer because of alternative energy and the potential it had…"
- Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, former U.C. Berkeley professor: "[There is] a new cadre of idealistic people who want to work on [energy] in any way they can…You have to start the long-term now…The long-term is being aware that a lot of students want to study science and engineering for this issue, to support them. That requires patience."