A geothermal power station

New ASU engineering program supports a sustainable energy future

By

Gary Werner

Innovation is transforming the energy industry as new technologies enhance power generation, storage and transmission. Alongside these improvements to components and systems, new human skills are required to convert the potential of scientific advances into commercial reality. 

Meeting this challenge is the purpose of a graduate program that began this fall in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. The master’s degree in modern energy production and sustainable use offers the multidisciplinary training necessary to realize a more sustainable energy future.

“Significant indicators from the U.S Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Labor are pointing to a critical need for talent with broad understanding of energy-related industries and technologies,” said Terry Alford, professor of materials science and engineering and associate director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the six Fulton Schools. “We see this trajectory as an opportunity for a new graduate program in which our students receive training across a combination of disciplines that will make them very attractive for emerging careers.”

Alford led the effort to design the new 30-credit-hour degree over the past two and a half years. His goal is to equip students to “speak several different engineering languages” as opposed to the traditional focus on a single specialty.

“The future of energy is going to be so diverse,” Alford said. “We need people who can draw on chemical engineering, materials science, mechanical engineering and more to create new ways to harvest energy from different sources, as well as to innovate in energy storage and energy transmission.”

Achieving that breadth includes offering two elective courses from ASU’s School of Sustainability. Alford says students have the flexibility to augment their technical expertise or to branch out and incorporate related social sciences such as energy policy or law.

“We expect this multifaceted approach will motivate students and enable our graduates to get out there in the field and hit the ground running,” he said.

Martin Flores started the new program this fall, after earning his bachelor’s degree in physics at ASU in May. His current coursework includes classes in wind energy, applied photovoltaics and sustainable energy policy.

Flores says his interest in the energy sector accelerated while completing the undergraduate Energy and Sustainability Certificate through the School of Sustainability alongside his primary major. When he saw the option to join the Fulton Schools’ new graduate program in modern energy production and sustainable use, he enthusiastically enrolled.

“I’ve actually been trying to recruit other students into the program,” Flores said. “The energy sector represents such an exciting opportunity right now. There are so many options. In fact, one of my primary motivations for pursuing this particular master’s degree is that I’m not yet certain where in the energy sector I want to proceed. I’m interested in research and engineering, but also the policy side of things. So, I look forward to a well-rounded experience that will allow me to choose from among many different directions.”

Flores says he reviewed master’s degree programs in energy at multiple universities, but he could not find anything like this new offering at ASU.

“On the one hand, that surprises me,” he said. “But the energy sector is evolving quickly. The field is not what it was even a few years ago. So, this kind of training is really important. It will yield excellent opportunities.”