Mason on Cutting Edge in Offering Renewable Energy Program

Posted: May 15, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

U.S. Department of Energy photo

In a sour economy, everyone is looking for job stability. While many jobs are in jeopardy, economists say there are many businesses that are virtually recession-proof, namely the health care, education, energy, environmental and security industries.

So it’s no wonder why the business of renewable energy is getting so much attention — it falls under many of these recession-proof categories. With this in mind, Robert Ehrlich, physics professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, decided to seek approval to create a minor in renewable energy within the College of Science. The minor was recently approved to begin in the fall 2009 semester.

Renewable energy includes a variety of methods of energy generation, including solar, wind, hydropower, tidal power and geothermal, as well as energy storage methods and energy conservation.

“After looking at similar programs offered at other universities around the country, I quickly realized that there weren’t very many; and most of them were just recently approved,” Ehrlich says.

“The attention to renewable energy started a number of years ago, but certainly the momentum is much greater due to the recent efforts of the Obama administration. The need for this type of energy is very apparent.”

The minor is not only geared to students seeking to learn about how to live an environmentally responsible lifestyle, but also to those who seek steady employment in a highly recruited field.

The field of renewable energy is still in its infant stages, making the course work of related educational classes diverse. Ehrlich says he hopes to conduct a thorough study among the other universities offering similar degrees to determine the optimal content and structure to implement in Mason’s program.

“There’s a great deal of experimentation going on,” he says. “Every one of the programs is different from the others in some way. Some grew out of engineering programs, others have varying mixtures of policy and technology.”

For this reason, Ehrlich thought it was advantageous to begin with a minor in renewable energy rather than a major.

“If you look at the kinds of jobs that are available in this field, [employers] are looking for all kinds of people,” Ehrlich says. “There are roles for business people, engineers, researchers, IT people, you name it. Students with these conventional majors probably would be better positioned for those jobs.”

What sets Mason apart from the other universities with a renewable energy program is its prime location near Washington, D.C. The minor requires students to complete an internship related to energy, a task made easier given the large number of energy companies and associations located just minutes from campus.

The minor in renewable energy requires a total of 19 credits. Further details of the curriculum requirements can be found on the College of Science web site.

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