Joint Industry-Academia Collaborative Efforts in Workforce Development for the Power Industry


Steven Whisenant1Badrul Chowdhury2

Johan Enslin3

Mesut Baran4

Klaehn Burkes5

1Duke Energy

4North Carolina State University

5Savannah River National Laboratory


Badrul Chowdhury2

Randy Collins3

David Lubkeman4

2UNC Charlotte

3Clemson University


Abstract— This paper summarizes workforce development efforts that are underway in the Carolinas with the help of a regional industry-led consortium, namely, “The Center for Advanced Power Engineering Research (CAPER).” The three CAPER university members, namely, Clemson University, NC State University, and UNC Charlotte, have met on a number of occasions to discuss the different aspects of workforce development efforts. We describe the entire process, from core competencies needed to how and where the training should be done. For individuals aspiring to work in the power industry, in addition to possessing a strong knowledge in the fundamentals of power engineering, there are several other attributes that the industry looks for in a potential candidate. While industry is mostly clear on what attributes they look for in their new employee candidates, the challenge for universities is to build the right curriculum, offer opportunities to develop the soft skills, provide interaction with industry and build a spirit of collaboration among students in order to prepare them for future careers in power engineering. This paper also discusses a variety of university perspectives and experience with developing the curriculum and the different ways to involve all industry stakeholders in the educational process.

Index Terms—Power and energy education, workforce development, curriculum, industry collaboration, internship.


    I.  Introduction

The electric utility industry is undergoing a transformational change in recent years since the beginning of the new millennium. Driven by an infusion of new technology and a paradigm shift from conventional to non-conventional power generation, the industry is surging ahead at a very fast pace. While the core business of the electric utility – that of serving customers – has not changed structurally, there are plenty of challenges ahead. While these challenges can range from slow load growth to dealing with shifting regulations, one challenge that needs immediate attention is the development of a technically skilled utility workforce. According to the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), the average age for energy employees is close to 50, and thousands are poised to retire in the next 5 – 10 years, leaving over 500,000 unfilled jobs. As a whole, the age curve for the industry has flattened, as older workers have retired and younger workers have been hired. Yet, Investor Owned Utilities have the oldest current workforce, with 35% over the age of 53.

As for replacing the current workforce, the authors are unable to find statistics for the US but in an article in September/October 2018 IEEE Power & Energy the following statistics were quoted showing the evidence of a skills gap in engineering in the United Kingdom. According to a recent survey covering years 2017 to 2024, “The electrical engineering workforce is projected to grow by 6.1% creating 2,700 jobs and at the same time, 23.7% of the workforce is projected to retire, creating 10,400 more job openings”. It can be expected that a similar if not greater skills gap in electrical engineering is occurring in the US. Significant recruiting and hiring will have to take place just to keep pace with staffing to stay at current levels. Even greater challenges are expected in order to add to the current workforce levels.

Replacing the current workforce added with the growing need for new employees, provides many opportunities for students desiring to go into the power and energy sector.

Workforce development efforts are underway in the Carolinas with the help of a regional industry-led consortium, namely, “The Center for Advanced Power Engineering Research (CAPER).”[1] The current university members of CAPER are Clemson University, NC State University, and UNC Charlotte. CAPER members have come together on a number of occasions to discuss the different aspects of workforce development efforts. This paper will describe the entire process, from what core competencies the industry needs in its future workforce to how and where the training should be done.

It is clear that individuals who wish to work in the power industry would need a strong knowledge in the fundamentals of power engineering. There are many other attributes that the industry looks for in a potential candidate. A high ranking engineer with hiring authority in a large power company thinks that all entry level employees should have eight attributes that all start with the letter ‘C.’ These are: competence; character; chemistry; communication skills; computer skills; cost control; connections; and, compliance. Another high ranking official offered up his recipe for success in the five U’s: understanding the fundamentals; unrestricted ideas; unbiased by traditional practices; unbounded access to funding; and, unbridled passion.

Therefore, while industry is mostly clear on what attributes they look for in students to build their new employee candidate pools, the challenge for universities is to build the right curriculum, offer opportunities to develop the soft skills, provide interaction with industry and build a spirit of collaboration among students in order to prepare them for future careers in power engineering.

The paper will also discuss university perspectives and experience with developing the curriculum and the academic pressures faced by university faculty in teaching power engineering  courses. The paper includes a look at different ways to involve all industry stakeholders in the educational process.

                                                                                                        II.  What the Industry Needs for its Workforce

At the spring 2016 CAPER meeting several representatives from various industries were invited to participate in a session to explore what industry thinks universities should do to prepare their students for careers in the power industry. Nelson Peeler, SVP Transmission at Duke Energy provided a clear and precise message. Duke Energy is looking for engineering graduates at the BS and Masters levels that have a strong knowledge in the fundamentals of power engineering. It is essential that in order to adapt to new technologies, meet ever increasing customer demands and solve the complexities of the interconnected electric systems, new engineers must have a very solid background in the basic fundamentals of how electrical systems are designed and operated. Another key factor is relevant work experience. Summer internships and especially co-operative program rotations offer valuable developmental and learning experiences. And lastly Duke Energy looks for candidates that have a real desire and interest in working in the power industry. Student Programs are a good way for students to gain experience in different areas of the company and ultimately Duke Energy offers a best-fit opportunity.

In that same session, Kevin Bevins, Superintendent – System Protection and Control, with Santee Cooper, titled his presentation “All the World Needs is Unlimited EE’s in Power” He went on to explain that his company has a stated set of attributes they look for when recruiting students to work in their company. These attributes he called the Eight C’s:

Competence – basic fundamentals in power engineering including three-phase systems, per-unit, transformer connections, equipment ratings, symmetrical components, fault studies,         economic dispatch and system stability.

Character – there are 21 qualities Santee Cooper looks for but the top three are:

Initiative – recognizing and doing what    needs to be done before being asked to do it

Diligence – focusing all energy to complete             the assigned tasks

Flexibility – not being attached to plans or ideas           that could be changed by management

Chemistry – ability to get along with others, work as a team, respect others and persuasiveness

Communication Skills – good listening (attentive and active) skills, good technical writing skills    and experience with public speaking

Computer Skills – experience with Microsoft Office products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint,     Visio, Access and Project, networking, database, coding and cyber security

Cost Control – economically compare alternative designs, cost justify a solution, evaluate                bids and know how to develop a business case

Connections – “theory with application”, real life experiences such as a summer internship or co-op

Compliance – familiar with NERC Standards and understands a mandatory compliance culture

Santee Cooper expects new employees to question and keep asking until they arrive at the root cause of a situation. And above all, do not settle for “that’s the way it has always been done”. New employees are encouraged to experiment and solve big problems.

Next in that same session, Russell Young, SVP of Operations with SoCore Energy, shared his insights of opportunities in the future for new engineers. Data from EEI shows that investments in the power grid from 1989 to 2009 was $523 billion but from 2010 to 2013 it is expected to be $1,577 billion. He went on to state that up to 2016 there has been 26 GW of solar installed worldwide while in the next two years it is estimated that an additional 26 GW will be installed. These new generation technologies will offer not only many new opportunities but many new challenges for young engineers.

The last speaker in the session; Rob Manning, VP Transmission at Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI); presented the title “Packing the Innovation Pipeline” His company works with industry to solve problems of the day and looks into the future to prevent the problems of tomorrow. EPRI is about working with industry to shape the future and that requires the best minds, the best experiences and the best collaboration as possible.  Rob went on to compare the innovation pipeline to a gas pipeline. Gas pipelines are first loaded with raw materials, i.e. natural gas, which is then heated and cooled in compressor stations until a steady stream of supply feeds the pipeline. But the pipeline will not operate until it is filled to optimal operating pressure. Once operating pressure is achieved, customers can pull from the line and it is able to ebb and flow with demand. Because of the pipeline pack, it can meet periods of high demand by borrowing from the pack and then replace the pack during periods of low demand. The innovation pipeline is similar except the raw material is not natural gas but people, people anxious to make a difference but needing the skills to become part of the pipeline pack. You take these passionate people, heat them, cool them and merge them together to fill the innovation pipeline with skilled people. Universities and industry are the agents that mold and prepare these people to fill that innovation pipeline. Rob went on to say that we need people to see the convergence of traditional assets with emerging technologies. We need people who understand how the business used to work, yet can see how business could work. It takes special people to boldly step forward into the unknown. Rob offered up his recipe for success in the Five U’s:

Understanding the fundamentals – real advancements come from people that have the underlying knowledge of the complexity of the electricity business. As we move into the 21st century the basics of power industry are changing. In the past power was generated centrally      and a balance between generation and demand was accomplished by human operators taking advantages of wide-scale diversity. Humans still oversee the system 24/7/365 but instead of thousands of information points now there are millions. Future systems will demand distributed intelligence and algorithmic controls. People are needed to develop and deliver solutions to a more dynamic energy system and only those with a firm grasp of the fundamentals will be in a position to do so.

Unrestricted ideas – industry needs students that are unburdened by past failures. Universities         need to foster the potential and encourage students to explore both what is possible and what is impossible. Fresh perspectives breathe life into a project or problem.

Unbiased by traditional practices – experience, while one of our greatest advantages, can also be one of our greatest challenges. As people build experience, they build history. Within that history are failures that build up resistance. Over time that resistance becomes a limiting factor. The industry needs people that are fresh thinkers and are unlimited by their past failures.

Unbounded access to funding – across the industry there is much research taking place in Universities, organizations like EPRI and the DOE National Labs. Looking across the many     industries it is clear that we are working on a number of the same things, stretching our limited research funds and reducing the impacts. Working together in collaboration is the best way to leverage limited resources and make the most of society’s R&D funds.

Unbridled passion – people packing the innovation pipeline that love making a difference. Working in the power industry is not only a job, it is a mission. The industry needs people that love what they do. The challenge for Universities is to figure out how to push students through a demanding and rigorous curriculum without extinguishing the fire that brought them to your doors. It is that fire that moves us from average and makes us spectacular. Universities are encouraged to do everything they can to protect the passion, coddle it and to grow it.

It is a tough list but it is what is needed by industry. Organizations like EPRI are looking for people with the passion to make a difference that are well prepared in the fundamentals to           make it happen.

The Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University published a series of Briefs titled Recruiting Trends 2017 – 18, 47th Edition [2]. Nearly 200 college and university career services assisted the Institute in obtaining participation from 3,500 employees. The surveys looked at recruiting efforts from a wide spectrum of industries and focused on what companies are looking for in new employees. Brief 2 focused on the hiring outlook by industry sector and geographic region and Brief 4 looked at hiring by academic degree. Data shows that from 2016 – 2017 there was a 12% greater need for technical majors. Computer, Electrical and Mechanical majors rank the highest. Employers tend to target specific universities and specific regions to fill their recruiting needs. As many as 60% of the companies surveyed recruit in the region close to their facilities, offices or headquarters while 32% recruit across the US. In the southeast region the outlook for bachelor degrees is up over 19%. While ample opportunities exist, most industries are facing significant challenges in trying to fill their workforce requirements.

Many industries are finding that candidates lack the soft skills and relevant work experience they are looking for. Many lack the technical skills needed to be successful initially on the job. Many candidates are not overly interested in the particular job being offered. Employers experience candidates who accept positions in their company but later come to realize that they are not interested in the type of positon and transfer or leave. These companies have invested much time and resources only to be faced with having to refill that position in a short period of time. To help with this particular problem, Brief 5 investigates how companies make use of Internships and Co-op Programs. Of the companies surveyed, 84% offer internships and 26% offered co-operative education programs (co-op).  Electric utilities rank as the highest industry sector in the use of summer internships. Of companies with greater than 7400 employees, 92% have internship and co-op student programs and 42% are increasing the size of their programs. Student programs such as internships and co-op rotations help both the employer and the student fine the right fit in addition to providing opportunities for development assignments while still in school. Brief 5 also explored how industries best connect with students to build their candidate pools. Approximately 55% work directly with university career services to identify and connect with potential candidates through job postings, career fairs and on-campus interviews. Another good on-campus option is to engage with professional student organizations such as IEEE, ASCE and ASME. The only notable non-campus resource is employee and alumni referrals. Companies surveyed were asked to provide their list of desired attributes for new employees. The top 10 are:

Enthusiasm                                    Flexibility

Fit                                                     Maturity

Hardworking                                  Independence

High quality level of work           High quantity of work

Professionalism                             Relevant work experience

In summary, industry is rather clear on what attributes they look for in students to build their new employee candidate pools. They want students with sound fundamental technical knowledge, relevant work experience, good communication skills, interest and passion for the job, fresh new thinking and the ability to work together in teams. The challenge for Universities is to build the right curriculums, offer opportunities to develop the soft skills, provide interaction with industry and build a spirt of collaboration among students in order to prepare them for future careers in power engineering.

                                                                                                               III.  Training a Well-Qualified Workforce

In an ideal world, students entering the power engineering workforce would have taken all of the relevant undergraduate and graduate courses before matriculating to industry.  However, there are a number of barriers to being adequately prepared right after getting an undergraduate degree. First, most students do not know what field of the industry they wish to select for their long term careers, and so they opt for breadth instead of depth in power engineering for their degree program.  Secondly, it is possible the institution they graduate from does not have the right mix of elective courses available when they need them.  Not every university offers a good mix of power engineering classes.  Finally the technology is changing so rapidly that if they finished their degree program five years ago, the material they need today might not have been available in course format at that time.

In order to provide industry with a well-qualified workforce, many schools offer online master’s degree programs that can be taken off-campus using video-based offerings.  This is the certainly the case for power engineering-oriented graduate coursework and associated degrees offered by NC State University, Clemson University and UNC Charlotte.  Once a power industry employee knows they want to further their education with additional coursework, it is now possible to do this via online classes offered by the CAPER universities.

At NC State University, engineering courses are offered by the Engineering On Line (EOL) program.  In this case, live on-campus lectures are captured in a studio class and later made available through a website to the EOL students. This is an asynchronous delivery in the sense that the distance students do not sit in a live classroom.  NC State offers its Electric Power Systems Engineering professional master’s degree (EPSE) and Master of Science of Electrical Engineering (MSEE) with power option online.  All classes required for the EPSE degree are offered once every year.  The majority of students taking these classes are working professionals with online section enrollments of about 10 per online class.  The NC State Wolfware course delivery system is used to deliver lecture notes and make assignments available. Students can electronically submit their assignments through this system and participate in question and answer forums related to homework and test material.

Clemson University uses web-based technologies to extend classroom lectures and other activities to students at remote sites in real time.  So for example a single course could link the Clemson main campus and Charleston sites with the instructor present at one site and students present at both sites.  This is a synchronous offering in that it makes it possible for students on both sides to receive the same instruction at the same time, interact with the faculty and other students in real time as well.  Lectures are also captured for archiving.  The instructor typically rotates once per month to the remote location.

At UNC Charlotte lectures are captured on video and PowerPoint lecture slides are available to download by a worldwide audience, including students from the Middle East. Online course offerings have their advantages and disadvantages.  Some students may have difficulty following technical material on video, especially if they haven’t taken this type of class before.  Also for the working professional, it can be difficult to keep up with the assignments if they have a demanding schedule at work which interferes with their studies.  However, the reality is that many students no longer have the flexibility to return to campus to take one to two years of additional coursework.  So online education is likely going to be an important mechanism for adequately training power engineers in the future.


IV.  Creating the Perfect Power Engineering Curriculum

Creating the “perfect” Power Engineering Curriculum is no easy task. Many factors go into to determining the appropriate topics and mix of experiences to make up the needed educational background for future careers in power engineering. Much has to do with the resources of individual Universities, student demographics and needs of regional industry. The southeast is seeing a dramatic penetration of solar energy second only to California. An understanding of Power Electronics and Power Systems integration of renewables is critical for new employees in the power and energy field. However, as compared to the northeast and west, there are no HVDC installations in the southeast and unlikely to be any in the future. Students tend to seek their education regionally and wish to stay and work regionally, so what is happening in a particular regions helps to drive interest in particular topics in power engineering.

At Clemson University a BS ECE degree requires 126 credit hours. A common program is required of all freshman. Sophomore and Junior years are filled with required courses for the ECE degree. In the Senior year, there is room for three technical electives. At that point in a student’s educational process how would they even know if they any interest in the power and energy field. Clemson has one advantage, in the Junior year all ECE students are required to take ECE 3600 – Electric Power Engineering. It is in this course that all ECE students are introduced to the numerous topics within  power engineering and use that introduction to take electives in the field. Also astute professors teaching this course, seek out the most interested and most talented students to encourage them to take more electives in power and even consider graduate school at the Masters level to continue studies in the field. Clemson offers certificate programs in Renewable Energy, Power Systems Engineering and Advanced Power Systems Engineering. Undergraduate students can take courses in the these areas and apply them to both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

At NC State University in Raleigh, NC there is not a power engineering course required of all ECE undergraduate students. However, students are encouraged to explore specialty areas starting in their junior year through two electives in the Foundation series.  In senior year, students can gain more depth in power through two electives in the Specialization series. Furthermore, to promote the power program, the ECE department has developed a concentration called Renewable Electric Energy Systems (REES). REES offers a set of selective coursework which focuses on energy conversion, power electronics and renewable power systems.  Faculty and industry are also using Senior Design Project, a two semester Capstone Project required for accreditation, as a means to generate interest in power engineering. Industry creates a Problem Statement and financially sponsors the project team made up of four to five seniors in ECE. At the graduate level, NC State offers a MS-EPSE: Electric Power System Engineering degree.

UNC Charlotte has a similar curriculum design and there is no required power and energy course for all EE students.  The Senior year offers an opportunity to take up to four electives that can come from the power and energy list of available courses. An undergraduate can elect to take a concentration in power engineering that would require them to enroll in two core courses: Electromagnetic Devices and Power Systems Analysis II and they must enroll in the following electives: Power Systems Analysis I, Power Electronics I, Control Systems Theory I, Linear Algebra, two additional electives at the senior level and two semesters of energy-related senior design project. At the graduate level there are a number of course offerings in power engineering such as Power Quality, Power Electronics II, Symmetrical Components, Power System Relaying, Electric Power Distribution Systems I and II, SMART Grid, Stability and Control, and Three-phase Power Converters. A few years ago, UNC Charlotte and industry together founded the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC)[3]. The center was founded to promote workforce development, economic development and applied research in energy. Since its beginning it has made 25 cluster hires in various concentrations of energy. EPIC offers scholarships and undergraduate research assistantships. UNC Charlotte offers modern and robust laboratory resources in electric machines and drives, power systems, microgrid management, distributed generation, renewable energy, integration and energy storage. UNC Charlotte has taken full advantage of the two-semester Senior Design Project to offer their students real-world engineering design projects. They use multi-discipline teams mentored by Industry Advisors and coached by Power Faculty to stay focused on projects designed and sponsored by the power and energy industry.

As part of the US Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment (GEARED), EPRI facilitated a regional effort called GridEd to collect and review various power engineering programs in the eastern and western regions of the US. Under the leadership of Tom Reddoch, GridEd visited a number of Universities, reviewed the power curriculums and other best practices and held several Workshops to share their findings. GridEd looked for gaps and created numerous short course to fill current needs in the educational process for working professionals.

An underlying theme that always became evident whether it was talking with university faculty, industry leaders and recent graduates, a sound and basic understanding of the Fundamentals of Power Engineering must be an essential element in any power engineering curriculum. It is this foundation that more complex, more specialty and more current a topics are built.

                                                                                                        V.  Challenges Imposed by ABET Accreditation

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology – now simply called ABET, Inc. is comprised of member societies like IEEE, ASME, ASCE, AICHE, etc. Its main objective is to assure quality of educational programs and continuous improvement. Generally, programs are reviewed every six years. To be accredited for a full six years, programs must demonstrate attainment of criteria, in part via assessment. [5]

The importance of ABET accreditation cannot be underestimated. Often, industry looks for ABET accreditation as a quality threshold when hiring new engineers. In addition, graduate school admission often requires a BS from ABET accredited program, or equivalent. It is also used to qualify for professional engineering license in the US. As of October 1, 2015, there were 3,569 programs accredited by A/BET at 714 colleges and universities in 29 countries.

ABET requirements

There are eight General Criteria plus a program specific criterion. A “Lead Society” (e.g., IEEE) oversees the accreditation process and dictates any program specific criteria.

The two most critical criteria for ABET accreditation are:

Criterion 3:  Student Outcomes

Criterion 5:  Curriculum

These criteria are intended to assure quality and to foster the systematic pursuit of improvement in the quality of engineering education that satisfies the needs of constituents  in a dynamic and competitive environment. It is the responsibility of the institution seeking accreditation of an engineering program to demonstrate clearly that the program meets these criteria. They are intended to provide a framework of education that prepares graduates to enter the professional practice of engineering who are:

  1. able to participate in diverse multicultural workplaces
  2. knowledgeable in topics relevant to their discipline, such as usability, constructability, manufacturability and sustainability and
  3. cognizant of the global dimensions, risks, uncertainties, and other implications of their engineering solutions.

Further, these criteria are intended to assure quality to foster the systematic pursuit of improvement in the quality of engineering education that satisfies the needs of constituencies in a dynamic and competitive environment.

Criterion 3:  Student Outcomes

The program must have documented student outcomes that prepare graduates to attain the program educational objectives. Student outcomes are  (a) through (k) plus any additional outcomes that may be articulated by the program:

  1. an ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering
  2. an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data
  3. an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability
  4. an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams
  5. an ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems
  6. an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility
  7. an ability to communicate effectively
  8. broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context
  9. a recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning
  10. a knowledge of contemporary issues
  11. an ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.


Criterion 5:  Curriculum

The curriculum requirements specify subject areas appropriate to engineering but do not prescribe specific courses. The faculty must ensure that the program curriculum devotes adequate attention and time to each component, consistent with the outcomes and objectives of the program and institution. The professional component must include:

  1. one year (~32 credits or ~10 courses) of a combination of college level mathematics and basic sciences (some with experimental experience). Basic sciences are defined as biological, chemical, and physical sciences.
  2. one and one-half years (~48 credits or ~16 courses) of engineering topics, consisting of engineering sciences and engineering design.
  3. a general education component that complements the technical content of the curriculum.

Students must be prepared for engineering practice through a curriculum culminating in a major design experience based on the knowledge and skills acquired in earlier course work and incorporating appropriate engineering standards and multiple realistic constraints.

In addition, many of the universities in the southern states are part of a regional accreditation, called SACS or Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS is a regional accrediting body in eleven U.S. Southern states (AL, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, and VA) and Latin America for institutions awarding associates, baccalaureate, master’s or doctoral degrees. Its mission is the enhancement of educational quality throughout the region and the improvement of the effectiveness of institutions by ensuring that they meet standards established by the higher education community that addresses the needs of society and students.

Accreditation by SACS signifies that the institution has resources, programs, and services sufficient to accomplish and sustain that mission, and maintains clearly specified educational objectives that are consistent with its mission and appropriate to the degrees it offers. Accreditation by SACS means students enrolled in the Baccalaureate degree  program pass a minimum of 120 semester credit hours (eight 15-credit semesters), which includes a minimum of 30 credit hours of  General Education courses. The latter must include at least one course from each of the following areas: humanities/fine arts, social/behavioral sciences, and natural science/mathematics.


VI.  Challenges Imposed by University Research Requirements

The US has several different types of universities that serve the general population. Among these are four year institutions that primarily focus on teaching and award either the Bachelor’s degree or both the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. There are also many institutions of higher learning that are active in both teaching and research, and award the doctoral degree in addition to the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. While both types of institutions produce graduates who are fully qualified to enter the workforce, faculty members at these two types of institutions have somewhat varying degrees of job description.

Table 1 shows the Carnegie classification of colleges depending on degrees granted  and level of  research. For example, the Doctorate granting universities include institutions that award at least 20 doctoral degrees during a year and had varying degrees of research activity.

Table 1: Carnegie Categories of colleges and universities [6]

Doctorate Granting Universities Master’s Colleges and Universi-ties Baccala-ureate Colleges Baccala-ureate/Assoc-iate Colleges
R1: Highest Research Activity
R2: Higher Research Activity
R3: Moderate Research Activity

Many of the doctorate granting universities that are known for research excellence exhibit similar characteristics. They tend to be institutions with the following general criteria:

  1. they can be either public or private universities.
  2. they often have acclaimed researchers, e.g. Nobel laureates, members of the National Academy of Engineering or the National Academy of Science.
  3. they have high admissions standards.
  4. their research expenditures can be in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, with some universities exceeding the billion dollar mark.
  5. they receive large research funds from federal sources primarily generated through grant writing.

The culture for research at doctorate granting universities helps attract some of the best and brightest minds including both faculty and students from around the country and the world. It helps generate funds through externally sponsored programs to conduct high risk research that otherwise would not be possible. With total federal R&D funds approaching $50 billion allocated annually just for universities, they are happy to maintain vibrant research programs. This leads to the development of many unique research labs that are instrumental in leading scientific discoveries and in generating intellectual property rights or patents. Therefore, although research active faculty cannot always devote themselves to full-time teaching, many will offer research positions to undergraduate students, who then go on to experience world class research.

The question many parents ask is whether professors at large research intensive universities have the time to mentor undergraduate students effectively. This is a legitimate question to ask, of course. In fact, there are professors who become so engrossed in their research that they have elected to “buy out” of teaching courses. But because of the fact that most public or private doctoral granting institutions have a large diverse faculty, there are many professors who also like to teach. It may not always be known to the outside world that some of the most research active professors tend to be effective instructors in the classroom because of the wealth of information they can bring from the research field.

In contrast, institutions known for teaching excellence, generally tend to be small, mostly private schools, with low student to faculty ratios, and innovative curricula structured to give the student a well-rounded education. At these universities, research is encouraged, but not required. That usually brings professors with a passion for teaching, who spend a large part of their time in the classroom or the laboratory. Graduates from such institutions are naturally in high demand in the industry. On the other hand, many of the top doctoral granting institutions in the nation have strong power programs that have been cultivated over decades generally in consultation with the local industry. Although a sizable percentage of their undergraduate students opt for graduate school, a majority of students accept job offers after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree.

All in all, the requirement for faculty research at universities is not necessarily an impediment for undergraduate education. It may depend; however, on the faculty and student body size, as well as how diverse the faculty are from the perspective of job description.


VII.  Attracting US Domestic Students into Power (Challenges and Strategies)

There has been a concerted effort within the past decade to attract undergraduate students to power by higher education intuitions with power programs [7-9]. Recent awareness on the impact of fossil fuel  energy on the climate, and the emergence of renewable technologies have helped to attract more students into the power at both undergraduate and graduate levels [10]. Three CAPER universities  have also made considerable effort in this regard.

A.    NC State University

FREEDM Systems Center at NCSU [11] has developed targeted programs to a large range of constituencies from K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and short courses and tutorials for working professionals. The main programs are the following:

  1. Undergraduate Concentration program: A new undergraduate concentration program in Renewable Electric Energy Systems (REES) has been introduced into the ECE curriculum in 2009. The main goal of the concentration is to provide a cohesive and coordinated context in renewable energy based electric power generation. There has been strong interest from students for this program and the program has experienced growth since its inception. Within last four years average enrollment has been around 65.
  2. Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU): The REU program is a 10 week summer immersion program for undergraduates majoring in engineering fields and offers students to conduct research and presenting their work at symposia. The program is open to all students in US, and hosts about 15 students per year. NSF has been the main sponsor and has been sponsoring similar programs in US. The Center also provides opportunities for undergraduate students to be in a research environment during a yearlong academic program. Within the last six years about 20 students per year have participated in this program.
  3. Pre-College Programs: This program aims at advancing the inclusion of engineering concepts in pre-college classrooms through involvement of teachers and students. One of the program is the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) which offers 20 days of participation in Center research for middle and high school teachers. Teachers develop lessons for their own classrooms and receive materials to teach the lessons. The other program -Young Scholars program- recruits upper level high school students to spend 20 days experiencing Center research through a specific project.
  4. MS-EPSE: MS-EPSE is a graduate program offered through the ECE Department to provide a comprehensive education on power engineering. To help attract US students, scholarships from industry have been secured. The program is also available online to make it easier for the working professional to get more comprehensive education on power engineering.

B.    Clemson University

At Clemson, there is a center dedicated to attracting undergraduate students to power, CUEPRA [8]. Activities include the following:

  1. offering opportunities to undergraduate to get involved in CUEPRA sponsored research
  2. contacting local high schools for a visit to the University and have undergraduate and graduate students present power engineering and the facilities available at the school.
  3. offering summer research projects to high school students
  4. having power faculty deliver presentations to freshman students about power engineering
  5. inviting undergraduate students to a IEEE/PES industry presentation and social hour
  6. inviting undergraduates to CUEPRA organized tours: GE, Santee Cooper, SCE&G, CURI, EATON and Duke Energy
  7. encouraging undergraduate to join the IEEE/PES chapter and become involved in their activities
  8. encouraging power faculty to sponsor Senior Design Projects
  9. encouraging power faculty to sponsor undergraduate honor thesis projects in power
  10. providing opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to attend IEEE/PES general meeting.

C.    UNC Charlotte

There are a number of initiatives that are helping attract domestic students to power engineering at UNC Charlotte. These include:

  1. Power & Energy Concentration program: A new undergraduate concentration program in Power and Energy that was introduced into the ECE curriculum in 2012. Students are asked to take an electromechanical energy conversion course, followed by an introductory power systems course. In addition, they have to take two additional technical electives at the senior level, which could be in one of more specific tracks, like machines and drives, power electronics, and power systems. Students must also undertake a senior design project in the power and energy area. Students must maintain a minimum GPA to obtain this concentration.
  2. Research for undergraduates: The Energy Production & Infrastructure Center at UNC Charlotte has allocated funds to attract four to six undergraduate students to pursue two-semester long research projects with power faculty. This program has been very successful. Many students have gone on to join the power industry.
  3. Internships and Coops: UNC Charlotte has strong ties with the local power industry. Every semester, a large number of students are hired by companies in the Charlotte area to spend a summer or more to work on projects that can generate strong interest among the students to pursue a career in the power field.

                                                                                                   VIII.  Involving Industry in the Education Process

The power industry is finding that fresh out of school engineering employees lack an adequate power engineering background with an industry perspective as well as the soft skills and relevant work experience they are seeking. Many new employees lack the technical skills needed to be successful initially on the job. Some candidates are not overly interested in the particular job being offered. Employers experience candidates who accept positions in their company but later come to realize that they are not interested in the type of position and transfer or leave. These companies have invested much time and resources only to be faced with having to refill that position in a short period of time. In order to address these issues, the following approach and topics are recommended:

A.    Industry perspectives in senior courses

Universities with established power programs, are requiring their junior students to take a compulsory power course where the basic principles of power engineering, electrical machines and power electronics are offered to students. This course is very important to lay the foundations of an industry focused career. Technical visits to utility and manufacturing facilities are making classwork more industry relevant. Linking an experimental lab class, where students experience hands-on experiments on the fundamentals of power engineering, will embrace the power fundamentals.

In the senior level, elective classes of power system analysis, protection, drives and power electronics, renewable energy, the industry relevance should be emphasized even more. Some of the successful approaches have the following aspects:

  1. integrating industry adjunct faculty members in senior power courses. Adjuncts that help to co-teach senior level classes are very valuable in helping to prepare students.
  2. adding team and project-based assignments to senior level classes, based on real industry problems and models, in addition to traditional problem-based homework.
  3. adding classroom delivery models that help to develop soft skills and encourage teamwork. Students need to develop business cases and address policy and regulatory aspects of their projects.
  4. using industry accepted tools for modeling and analysis in course assignments and projects, rather than educational type tools. By utilizing industry standardized tools, the students develop relevant experiences and can be immediately productive once hired.

B.    Industry-funded multi-disciplinary senior design projects for all students

Senior Design Projects are a key component in developing students into productive employees. The importance of industry funded projects help students experience real industry relevant problems, solutions, project management and financial responsibility. Some universities like UNC Charlotte have excellent multi-disciplinary programs where a senior design team consists of multiple disciplines as a new employee will experience in the industry.

C.    Co-op and Internship Programs

Several studies have shown the importance of undergraduate co-op and internship programs to prepare students for the workplace. In one of the recent studies [ref Michigan State University study] companies were surveyed which, 84% offer internships and 26% offered co-operative education programs (co-op).  Electric utilities rank as the highest industry sector in the use of summer internships. Of companies with greater than 7400 employees, 92% have internship and co-op student programs and 42% are increasing the size of their programs. Student programs such as internships and co-op rotations help both the employer and the student fine the right fit in addition to providing opportunities for development assignments while still in school. This study also explored how companies use co-ops and internships to best connect with students to build their candidate pools.

D.   Integrated BS-MS Program

Most engineering undergraduate curricula are very full and difficult to prepare power engineering students well for a productive career in the power industry. With most students doing Advanced Placement courses at high school, they should plan to do an integrated BS-MS program and leave the university after five years with both BS and MS degrees. Most universities have early placement MS programs where undergraduates can get credit for both undergraduate and MS classes while completing their undergraduate studies. It is important for industry and universities to advise students early about these opportunities. Several concentrations and certifications exist at universities with a power focus and students can also have these aligned with their integrated BS-MS education programs.


IX.  University Power Curriculum – Students’ Perspective

At its 2017 Fall 2017 meeting, CAPER sponsored a session  on University Power Curriculums – Student Perspective. In this session three students, two recently graduated and one electing to continue in graduate school,  shared their experiences and elaborated on what was good about their specific power program and where they saw gaps.

Cara Chacko received her bachelor’s degree at UNC Charlotte with a concentration in power and energy systems and is now employed at Duke Energy. She felt well prepared for her present career, but her many extra-curricular activities, such as internships, undergraduate research experiences, and power-related student organizations, as well as Senior Design, provided her primary preparation. She credits her university for promoting these extra-curricular opportunities: connections to internships through industry seminars, engineering job fairs, opportunities for undergraduate research, support for her participation in student organization, mentorship, and encouraging industry partnerships for senior design projects. She also credits her university for  well taught fundamental courses that taught critical thinking and required analysis of various software, an essential skill for the modern power engineer. However, the courses lacked specific instruction on technical writing and emphasis on the importance of the FE and PE exams, which are also important fundamentals for a successful career in energy. The courses also lacked representation of power-related majors and careers, which would be very beneficial to increasing student interest in power. However, when Cara entered the power-specific curriculum, she appreciated the dedicated power engineering professors who brought their real-world knowledge to the classroom and applied it to holistic, realistic design challenges in the university’s well-equipped power laboratories. Cara stated that an introduction to common codes and standards, and more emphasis on the challenges and growth the power industry is experiencing (rather than a singular focus on power fundamentals such as system analysis), would be helpful additions to these classes. Cara ended by reinforcing the importance of the programs most contributed to her preparedness to begin her career in power engineering: internships, research, student organizations, and especially her industry sponsored Senior Design project.

Next in the session, Klaehn Burkes, received his master’s degree with a focus in power engineering at Clemson University and now works at Savannah River National Lab.  Klaehn became interested in power after having completed the required undergraduate course ECE 3600 Electric Power Engineering. He went on the take as many electives in power as possible and decided to pursue a master’s degree in order to take more coursework in the field. Especially helpful for Klaehn was the CUEPRA program and a highly active IEEE PES Student Chapter. Graduate school provided a better connection between theoretical and application and a better connection on how to apply information learning. Industry involvement in his thesis work was especially rewarding. Klaehn felt well prepared to begin his career in power engineering and is now pursuing a PhD in power engineering at Clemson.

Catie McEntee, a student at NC State, has received both undergraduate and master degrees in power and is staying to complete her PhD in the field. Her inspiration has always been renewable energy. NC State did a good job of advertising their Renewable Electric Energy Systems (REES) concentration for students who were interested in making a difference in the area of renewable energy. She enrolled in all the courses to complete the REES concentration but wanted more from her education. After completing her undergraduate studies, she was comfortable with the math but studies at the masters level better introduced her to physical concepts of three-phase transformers and distribution circuit models vs classroom equivalent circuits and single-phase circuit analysis.  At the undergraduate level she knew math, circuit diagrams and what was happening but at the masters level she learned design, electrical drawings, what she wanted to happen and why. Catie offered several suggestions on how to improve a power curriculum: introduce the interconnected grid and how it works, discuss problems facing the power industry and what skills are needed to solve them, discuss various jobs opportunities in the field and include field trips to study actual installations. Catie expressed that the classroom was really important to her. Confusing notes, unclear assumptions and discouraging complex homework made some classes uncomfortable. Critical thinking is important but nearly impossible if you do not have a firm and rooted understanding of the fundamentals. The better teachers offer clear, error-free notes with thoroughly worked out problems. Examples are worked on the board in real time. Homework is a mix between theory and application. The classroom needs to be that place that is interesting, engaging and nurturing to create the passion for power engineering. The classroom provides the motivation that you can’t get from reading a text book.

Providing that connection between coursework and future careers in power engineering happens in the classroom.



X.  Conclusion

Throughout the series of sessions presented at CAPER meetings, we heard from industry, academia and students on their views of what makes up and how to best deliver a power engineering education that effectively prepares students to begin their new careers. It begins at the University level with the  undergraduate degree and may continue through graduate degrees. Industry must take an active role in the process by providing tours, special topic classroom seminars, relevant work experience, and research support. Professional organizations such as IEEE and PES Student Chapters offer networking opportunities and relevant topics of the industry. Students must generate the interest, take the initiative, be willing to work hard to build that passion for power engineering.

Universities that are torn between research and teaching must establish a balance and get back to the basics. They must offer the right courses, provide labs for that “hands on” experience and build excitement in the classroom. Research can actually bring much benefit to the classroom when is meaningful and applicable. Education does not end at graduation. Universities can continue the process by offering developmental short courses, online courses, special topic courses and PE review courses.

Industry too has a big role in the education of future power engineers. Industry must be involved by providing guest lectures, seminar series and participation in PES Student Chapters. Industry needs to support applied research by providing financial support, providing real data for projects and serving as Industry Advisors to projects and Senior Design Projects. Power engineers in the industry need to be involved in the recruiting process by attending Career Fairs, interviewing students and serving as mentors to students that are working as co-ops and interns.

Students must be willing to take fundamental courses to learn the basics. They must enroll into as many electives in the field as possible and pursue advance degrees if desired. Relevant work experience is crucial today to land that first job. Co-op rotations, internships and even part-time employment are great ways to gain that relevant work experience.

In summary, power engineering is a partnership. All stakeholders, Universities, Industry and Students each have specific roles that must be actively engaged and coordinated together in order to provide the depth and breadth of education a student needs today to successfully enter the exciting and challenging field of power engineering.


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[12].  CUEPRA: