OSU energy engineering program grows in Bend
By Lee van der Voo
Sustainable Business Oregon contributing writer
An energy management engineering program at Oregon State University's Cascades campus is one of just a handful in the country.
The Oregon State University - Cascades campus in Bend will welcome 20 transfer students in the fall, all of them headed to a one-year-old program designed to train the next generation of energy systems engineers.
The Energy Systems Engineering program launched last September in partnership with Central Oregon Community College. It’s intended to pair complex engineering with business concepts and identify solutions for energy efficiency. Graduates may land in jobs running wind farms. They might also evaluate the economic viability of new solar installations, manage complex energy conversion and distribution systems, work to improve energy storage or manage efficiency at large companies and manufacturers.
“I think it's for a student that's interested in making a difference with energy. It’s going to be a long-term challenge that’s with us forever and I think it’s a broad, flexible degree. It's going to offer you a lot of options with your career,” said Robin Feuerbacher, assistant professor and Tykeson Endowed Faculty Scholar of the Energy Systems Engineering program.
OSU-Cascades worked with local industry and related companies to design the curriculum. In addition to coursework that combines industrial and mechanical engineering studies with instruction on the business and financial side of energy, including incentives, it also emphasizes the secondary effects of energy usage, including environmental and economic impacts, and global climate.
Students in the program pursue six-month internships with companies sponsoring interns. Those companies include Advanced Energy, which has its solar energy headquarters based in Bend, and Bend-based fuel-cell maker IdaTech and medical research firm Bend Research.
“The feedback we’re getting from the companies is they really like the foundation behind it, the mix of mechanical and industrial engineering… and they also like the business classes there because it’s important to understand how the businesses run and that you need to be aware of the economics and the financial analysis,” said Feuerbacher.
"We are a high-tech employer and currently have to go outside the area for most of our new employees. That's a situation we'd like to change. Strong science and engineering programs will help us hire locally and will be attractive to employees who seek to continue their education or seek educational opportunities for family members," said Rod Ray, president and CEO of Bend Research in an email. "We think it's a major quality-of-life issue."
Officially approved in Oct. 2010, the program accepted its first four students in fall 2011.
“Now we have a total of 98 students kind of in the pipeline,” said Christine Coffin, director of communications at Cascade.
Those students come to the program with some engineering in their background. Through OSU-Cascades’ partnership with Central Oregon Community College, students can take their 100-200 level courses at the community college level and then transfer in for 300-400 level coursework, usually in their junior year. Students can also take those lower level courses at OSU’s Corvallis campus or elsewhere. Of the 98 students currently enrolled, 53 are dually enrolled with Central Oregon Community College and 30 are pre-engineering students at OSU Corvallis. The rest are juniors and seniors in the program at OSU-Cascades.
Though the program cannot fully accredit until it’s first student has graduated, the first student graduates in fall 2012 and Feuerbacher said the program is moving toward accreditation, which will be retroactive once achieved.
The program was launched with support from the Tykeson Family Charitable Trust, a trust operated by the owners of BendBroadband, a family-owned business in Central Oregon. The $250,000 endowment created the first endowed faculty position at Cascades, now filled by Feuerbacher. The Tykeson trust offered the gift at a time when BendBroadband was constructing a new Bend-based data center and incorporating energy optimization features, including a 155 kilowatt solar array on the roof and a high-tech heat exchange system to reduce the energy required to cool the facility.
Amy Tykeson, president and CEO of BendBroadband and a trustee of the family foundation, said at the time that the giving opportunity was a good fit with the thinking provoked by the new data center about energy management, green technologies and all the sustainability factors that go into such a facility. She also noted the program could put OSU-Cascades on the national map.
The Energy Systems Engineering program is one of only a handful of its kind in the nation.
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