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Sunday, April 5, 2020

New major looks to solve energy problems

Energy Policy and Management is now being offered as a major through the Institute for Energy Studies.

This new major will cover issues including how people in this country, and the rest of the world, are going to be able to flip on the lights or have access to hot water in a sustainable manner.

An Energy Policy minor has been offered at Western in the past, but this is the first major of its kind. The Institute aims to teach about human consumption and production through multiple disciplines.

Huxley College of the Environment, the College of Science and Engineering and the College of Business and Economics house the new program.

Joel Swisher is the Director for the Institute for Energy Studies. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath
Joel Swisher is the Director for the Institute for Energy Studies. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath

Students at Western have been clamoring for this type of education for a long time.

“The Institute for Energy Studies was formulated five or six years ago really in direct response to the interest of students,” director of the Institute Dr. Joel Swisher said.

Environmental science students could learn about these massive climate issues, but wanted to know what they could do on on the solution side, Swisher said.

Up until this time, these programs focused on only one aspect of energy use. The new major is an interdisciplinary approach to energy management, senior Meghan Demeter said.

“You take classes in economics, business and accounting, policy and politics and of course in energy,” Demeter said.

The program has created about twenty classes, with new faculty being brought on board to teach them.

Stefanie Neale is a Western graduate student who graduated with the Energy Policy minor.

“There was a huge interest in the minor,” Neale said. “The Institute saw the interest and got more funding and faculty to teach some of the energy classes. There was a need for it.”

Green energy, climate change and energy efficiency are important topics right now, Neale said.

“When you look at a lot of environmental and climate issues it all really boils down to energy,” Demeter said.

Neale said students graduating in the major will be better prepared to enter the workforce and will have a high chance of finding work due to demand.

Energy and energy use is a part of almost all services Americans use.

“We joke about not caring about kilowatts and gallons of gas, what we care about is hot showers and cold beer, but it’s still a service,” Swisher said in an interview with the Western Window TV show.

Jobs in business, entrepreneurship and nonprofit work will be some of the areas graduates of the Energy Policy & Management major will be able to work in, Swisher said.

“The demographics are amazing,” Swisher said. “I tell the students they’re going to be running the place in no time.”   

Energy Policy & Management can lead to working in utilities like  Puget Sound Energy or Cascade Natural Gas. Government jobs such as winterizing homes that use excess heat in the winter is an example of energy efficiency work that Neale is interested in pursuing.

The Institute’s degree also offers an option to add a minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. An Energy Science minor, and another full major, Electrical Engineering, are both now offered at Western.

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