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Brightening the future of America’s energy industry

Andy Edmonds ’09 was completing his B.S. in mechanical engineering when he learned of Lehigh’s new master’s of engineering (M.Eng.) in energy systems engineering. He enrolled in the 10-month graduate program, finished in May, and recently took a job with Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, Calif.

His experience is typical of the 22 students who earned the M.Eng. in energy systems engineering (ESE) in the program’s first year.

Despite the current economic recession, all the graduates have been offered jobs.

The new program is offered through the Energy Systems Engineering Institute (ESEI), which was established in 2009 to promote research, education and technology transfer in energy systems engineering. The ESEI is a partnership of Lehigh and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) with support from power companies.

The ESEI’s goal, says director Andrew J. Coleman ’90, “is to train energy managers who understand power generation, the grid that translates and distributes power, and the overall economical and environmental impact of energy use.”

The institute also aims to help secure the future of America’s energy industry. The U.S. Department of Energy, the Center for Energy Workforce Development and other groups have estimated that as many as half the workers in some sectors of the energy industry would be eligible to retire by 2012, while the number of personnel qualified to replace them is declining.

An industry-focused curriculum

At the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Edmonds has begun a four-year apprenticeship for nuclear plant equipment operators.

The M.Eng. in energy systems engineering, he says, has proved invaluable.

“The ESE’s industry-focused curriculum,” says Edmonds, “sets us apart. I had to take an entrance exam just to qualify for the interview at Southern California Ed. Only a small percentage of candidates pass. But thanks to what I learned in the ESE program, it was not too difficult.

“Now I find I can talk intelligently with the Navy veterans here who have operated reactors.”

Jeff Zubernis ’09 also enrolled in the ESE program after earning a B.S. in mechanical engineering.

“The emphasis on management and business was certainly one of the strengths of the program,” says Zubernis. “We had courses in project management and energy economics. A lot of power plant managers spoke to our classes. All of this proved very helpful.”

Zubernis received an offer from Dresser-Rand, a manufacturer of compressors and turbines for the power, oil and gas industries, and recently began a five-year rotation in management development. His first assignment is as an applications engineer at a steam turbine site.

Joseph Mulhern, another alumnus from the ESE’s first class, took a job with PJM Interconnection, which coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

“When I started,” says Mulhern, “I did not need any additional training in the general concepts of the electrical grid, which has impressed my co-workers who are helping train me.

“The background knowledge I received at Lehigh, especially in the Transmission and Distribution: Smart Grid course, has enabled me hit the ground running.”

The second class of ESE students, which numbers 26, began in July.

Story by William Tavani

Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010

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