Turning Energy Interest into Action

With GLEI’s help, CWRU teaches students about the possibilities in the energy industry to match their growing interest.

A Strange Conundrum

Energy is growing not just in the educational world, but also in the business world. Yet there’s a contradiction occurring in which student interest in energy is increasing, but those same students are still unaware of that matching growth in the energy industry. “Energy is certainly a growth area,” said Grant Goodrich, director of GLEI, in an Energy News Network article. At the same time, he echoed “a strange conundrum: You would be shocked at the number of students who don’t realize that this is a hot job market.”

 A report from E2 supports Goodrich’s claims of the growing energy industry. Ohio was ranked eighth in clean energy jobs in the states with over 112,000 jobs. The report also shows the top industries in clean energy, and CWRU is involved in the top four: energy efficiency, renewable energy, solar energy, and wind energy. CWRU’s research in energy encompasses all those industries and several others, giving students access to a wide variety of options. Outside of Ohio, Deloitte’s view of the energy industry remains a positive one, noting that the industry stayed resilient despite potentially troubling taxes and tariffs.

One problem preventing students getting into energy is the multifaceted needs of the energy industry. Existing programs at colleges and universities sometimes struggle to provide students with the skillsets companies look for when hiring. The energy industry requires not only a strong technical background, but a business and communication background as well. In addition, it’s important to be on top of the latest technology in the field. Currently colleges struggle to provide options that are both focused and wide enough to address all of these needs.

Adapting to Ever-Changing Needs

The industrial world and its changing needs have begun to have an impact on what schools offer, including CWRU. Data analytics has become a crucial need in the field, so much so that CWRU has added it as a major and a minor. “I think it’s a really important indicator of where industry is going as a whole, and certainly something that we’re hearing from energy companies as a need when they’re hiring,” Goodrich said. Around 160 students have signed up for the data analytics courses since the program began, showing that CWRU is moving in the right direction. In addition to analytics, economics has also become a key field due to the nature of energy as a technical marketplace. Energy is as much of a business as it is a science, and knowledge of energy industry economics is instrumental in managing it successfully.

As more CWRU students start to consider pursuing energy, they may want to expand their education to those areas. CWRU continues to expand its energy courses to help engage students who are interested. CWRU has made other advances in supporting energy education, including the recent collaboration with Siemens resulting in a digital grid lab. The lab’s program works to merge the existing electrical network with newer energy sources, such as solar and wind. The primary goal of the grid lab is to prepare students for the ever-changing energy industry as it shifts to digital technologies.

The grid lab is not CWRU’s only endeavor to raise passion for energy in students. GLEI’s own ThinkEnergy program has continued to be successful, and has gone from 36 applications in 2015-16 to 54 applications in the last school year. The ThinkEnergy program is an opportunity for students to learn more about and engage in the energy industry through talking to energy professionals, competing in clean energy start-up competitions, and much more. This past year, some of the 2018-2019 ThinkEnergy fellows placed second in the Saint-Gobain Pitch Competition. Also, the cohort recently finished their trip to the 2019 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. The Innovation Summit is an annual conference brings communities together to tackle the newest challenges in energy. ThinkEnergy fellows have unique access to people involved in the energy industry, allowing them to form important networking connections while still in their undergraduate career. Though CWRU currently has no energy engineering majors, it has tapped into its student’s passion for energy in other ways.

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The 2018-2019 ThinkEnergy Fellowship Cohort that recently completed the program

What CWRU might lack in energy courses it makes up for in energy research. Undergraduate research is an essential component of CWRU that prepares students for their careers. Students get involved with research primarily through the Support of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (SOURCE) office or by talking to their professors. The SOURCE website provides a list of research opportunities that students can pursue, as well as advice on how to get started. CWRU offers a wide range of research to its students, including topics like engineering, mathematics, and of course, energy. Students can leverage the opportunities for energy research that CWRU provides to bolster their resume, as many energy industries are keen on acquiring students who already have experience in energy. 

Just as CWRU supports its students, GLEI leads CWRU’s energy endeavors. GLEI’s mission is to catalyze breakthroughs in the energy and sustainability by empowering those at CWRU. It does this through the ThinkEnergy program, and also by helping faculty secure grants for energy research, organizing energy-related events across campus, and connecting CWRU to industry partners in energy.

Written by Jeremy Zalles and Sarah Ferguson