BS in energy and environmental policy shows promise


ISE Lab room
One of the crucial aspects of the new degree is its interdisciplinary nature, as it incorporates science, economics and policy.

The university has recently introduced a new academic program, the bachelor of science degree in energy and environmental policy, one of the first of its kind across the nation.

Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Dr. John Byrne explains that the major just recently became official. It was launched in 2011 and, after a three-year probationary period, was granted permanent status, Byrne said.

The major is based on the concept that environmental problems, such as pollution of air and water and climate change, result from flaws in the energy system, he said.

“We seek to solve these problems by developing policies to reduce pollution and shift to new energy sources,” Byrne said.

One of the crucial aspects of the new degree is its interdisciplinary nature, as it incorporates science, economics and policy, he said.

Ismat Shah, a professor of materials science and engineering as well as physics, said the program features three different tracks students can pursue, including Energy, Science and Technology; Energy, Environment and Society; and Energy, Economics and Public Policy.

Shah plays a pivotal role in the Energy, Science and Technology track, as he advises each and every student who matriculates through the program. Byrne said this interdisciplinary approach will prepare students to be competitive in the job world.

“A lot of students are taking minors and double majors, so they will have a degree in science and economics,” he said. “We find it to be facilitating, because it gives students added value. They aren’t just learning engineering, but also how to solve practical problems.”

Shah also said students coming out of the program will be well-rounded, having experience in the areas of energy and policy.

“This will prepare them for positions with government, with lobbyist groups in Washington, D.C. and other science and technology jobs,” he said. “I hope these kids, when they graduate, will have the knowledge to serve in any of these positions.”

Byrne added that students participating in the program can look forward to a variety of career options.

Possibilities include jobs in the electrical or utilities area, consultant positions in companies that advise on new energy sources, careers in governmental organizations that regulate environmental matters and in research institutes, he said.

In addition, students can gain valuable experience by participating in research placement as part of the major over the summer, Byrne said. They learn how to conduct research in public and private organizations, giving them an advantage in future careers.

The new energy and environment policy program is already a valuable academic asset at the university. Shah said he believes that the global prominence of energy problems makes this program extremely relevant.

“Having a program in our portfolio like this is a big plus,” Shah said. “But more than that, it produces unique graduates. It fills a niche in our society that is otherwise empty.”

Byrne said the program is currently the only bachelor’s program in energy and environmental policy in the nation, though other universities are beginning to create similar programs.

In the future, Shah said he hopes to see the energy and environmental policy program expand to include not only more students, but also a larger faculty that can deal with different areas of study within the program.

As the program’s director, Byrne is excited to see the effect it is having on aspiring students.

“It is attracting young people that have a lot of enthusiasm about solving these energy problems,” he said.

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