West Virginia University continues to strengthen its position as a key place for energy research and education with the development of a new undergraduate degree, a bachelor’s of science in Environmental and Energy Resource Management.
The new degree, which will begin accepting students immediately, will build upon efforts already under way with other industry partners and institutions of higher learning that are helping to pave the path for research in the energy industry. It will also provide a fast track into the region’s rapidly growing energy industry.
WVU is moving aggressively in the energy research sphere through partnerships with The Ohio State University for shale energy research, outreach and education, and with Northeast Natural Energy for projects between business and academia.
“These partnerships enhance the university’s ability to fulfill the land-grant mission of teaching, research and service,” said Provost Michele Wheatly. “As a driving force shaping our country’s energy future, we are working to benefit not only WVU, but our state and country.”
The objective of the degree is to provide a strong foundation for those students interested in pursuing a career focusing on the business and entrepreneurial aspects of the growing energy and environmental sector.
“Students completing this major will be prepared for employment in the private sector, governmental agency employment, consulting, and for entrepreneurial ventures of their own design,” said Fonda Holehouse, teaching associate professor of agricultural and resource economics in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.
Holehouse and Gerard D’Souza, a professor in the same program, developed the curriculum with the support of a $159,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
This degree program entails a comprehensive synthesis of the following four areas: Energy, Environment, Entrepreneurship and Economics, or E-Quad, as the program’s creators call it.
“We’ve created a program that will produce graduates who comprehend the big picture about the energy industry, and who will strengthen existing connections and foster new ones between WVU students and the energy industry and the federal and state agencies that regulate it,” D’Souza said.
While many programs deal with both the energy and environment, very few incorporate entrepreneurship.
A vital part of the curriculum will include internships with energy-related industries and regulatory agencies. This internship initiative has been specifically funded, in part, by the Benedum Foundation, as has a business plan competition focusing on technology-related issues, particularly as they relate to energy, innovation and the environment.
The first round of that competition, the West Virginia Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge, was held last year. Three teams of WVU students were awarded seed money to assist in pushing the innovations to commercialization in May of 2013. Two of three projects are approaching commercialization, and patents are pending on two.
“With the rapid growth of the region’s energy industry, it’s vital that WVU take a leading role in training industry-ready graduates,” said Dan Robison, dean of the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, which houses the major.
“I think our college is uniquely positioned to synthesize the complex components required for this kind of degree and to contribute something unique and important to WVU’s growing portfolio of energy-related programs.”
The program will also benefit from direct industry guidance in the form of an advisory board consisting of more than 20 representatives of industry and related regulatory agencies. This board will advise program leaders on changing industry needs and help build a professional network for students seeking internships, employment, entrepreneurial guidance, and even start-up capital.
“The Benedum Foundation recognizes the role this program will play in developing strong university-industry relationships that ultimately grow the West Virginia economy,” said Mary Hunt, senior program officer with Benedum. “Our support of elements of the program is expected to produce returns in the form of qualified and engaged graduates, valuable internships with agencies and companies involved in E-Quad-related fields and an advisory board of stakeholders who can help move the program forward into the future.”
Ralph Currey, retired president and chief executive officer of Iberdrola Renewables and a 30-year veteran of the worldwide energy business, is a member of the E-Quad Advisory Board. He describes the new major as “an important curriculum for defining our University as the leader in energy and natural resource higher education.”
“We will prepare students with an applied-technical capability to excel in sectors that are becoming exponentially more complex, very consistent with the aspirations of the WVU 2020 Strategic Plan,” said Currey, who earned both a bachelor of arts in chemistry and master of science in safety engineering from WVU. “Energy is vital to West Virginia. I see every reason why WVU should be leading the critical energy and natural resource debate.”
Even before the major was officially approved by WVU’s Faculty Senate, the Benedum grant was creating opportunities for WVU students and shaping their careers.
“I’ve been riding the E-Quad train since I was introduced to the idea a little over a year ago,” said Harold Vass, a graduate student in natural resources economics in the Davis College who earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from WVU’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
During his senior year, he took Holehouse’s entrepreneurship course and competed in the Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge.
“The experience has truly changed my life,” Vass said. “I now think like an entrepreneur. Of course I’m still an engineer at heart, but now I’m always investigating the possibility of my next entrepreneurial endeavor or innovation.”
He describes E-Quad as “the perfect major for West Virginia University, a school looking to identify itself as THE Energy University. The character and caliber of graduates of the program will be that of those surely prepared to make informed, responsible decisions in both policy and business in our state with the creative nature and outlook that so few possess, but that we so desperately need.”
The program is representative of WVU’s stated goal of promoting study in and mastery of science, technology, engineering and math, while placing those disciplines in an economic and entrepreneurial context.
“Energy research, particularly as it relates to shale gas utilization, is one of the key research focus areas for the University. This new degree will help translate what is learned in the classroom and discovered in the research laboratory into action in the world beyond our campus,” said Fred King, WVU vice president of research.
The Benedum grant that funded the creation of the program was administered through the WVU Foundation, the private fundraising arm of WVU. The Foundation is currently conducting A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University, a $750 million comprehensive fundraising effort.
For information on admissions, program requirements, or to schedule a visit, please contact Renee Conneway, Davis College recruiter, at 304-293-2292 or Renee.Conneway@mail.wvu.edu.
CONTACT: David Welsh; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
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