Developing the next generation of sustainable energy leaders

Posted: December 12, 2020

Graduate students in a boot camp for a new Ohio State sustainable energy program faced a timely challenge: How has the pandemic changed energy production and consumption, and how can we make use of or leverage those changes for driving future energy use?

Jaden Tatum in agricultural engineering and Brian Capobianco in environment and natural resources worked together on one of the boot camp teams in the new interdisciplinary Convergent Graduate Training and EmPOWERment for a Sustainable Energy Future program. They examined the energy and environmental benefits of remote work or a hybrid work model and how to convince or incentivize corporate decision-makers to allow work-from-home flexibility moving forward.

Jaden Tatum

"The team had several different engineers and one student with a policy background," explained Tatum. “It was interesting to see how we all brought our respective backgrounds to this project that was out of our collective wheelhouses, and each explored different areas of interest around the project."

Other engineering graduate students participating in the program include: Kate Clelland, electrical and computer engineering; Ronald Davies, computer science and engineering; Diego Hincapie Ossa, civil engineering; Michael Lee, mechanical engineering; Ahmad Mohammadshirazi, computer science and engineering; and Qingrun Yang, civil engineering. Learn more about them here.

Ohio State researchers received a $2.98 million National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) grant to launch the EmPOWERment program this fall. The overarching goal is to provide interdisciplinary training for students to develop solutions to the societal grand challenge of making energy systems more sustainable, said Ramteen Sioshansi, professor and associate chair of the Department of Integrated Systems Engineering. An affiliated faculty member of the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, he is the program's principal investigator, leading a core team of faculty drawn from seven colleges across the university.


“Developing feasible and workable solutions to the energy sustainability challenge requires accounting for broad interdisciplinary perspectives,” Sioshansi said. “For example, an engineer who develops a technical solution that neglects the economics, policy constraints or behavioral aspects of the energy system may develop a device that no one can sell or no one wants to buy or which may not pass policy scrutiny. Conversely, setting regulatory rules without accounting for technical characteristics of energy production, storage and consumption could yield very poor policy decisions. EmPOWERment gives students the breadth of training that is needed to be successful in this endeavor.”

The EmPOWERment program encompasses several new courses, a summer research program for targeted student recruitment, and multiple opportunities for students to engage with industry. Graduate student trainees complete an additional 19 credit hours of course work that supplements their doctoral studies and receive an interdisciplinary specialization designation on their transcripts.

The program will create more than 32 one-year stipends for National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) fellows, targeted to female and underrepresented minority students. With Ohio State’s Battelle Center, it also features a Student Community of Practice and Engagement (SCOPE) for students interested in sustainable energy.

EmPOWERment also focuses on providing professional development and training for non-academic careers, said Program Coordinator Diane Boghrat.

"We’re helping students to build networks — both academic and non-academic — in the energy space through mentoring and internships with energy-sector partners," she explained, "and we’re offering experiential-learning opportunities including the boot camp, the Institute for Materials Research INNOVATE-O-thon and a capstone-project course. Through these experiences, trainees are exposed to rapid prototyping and rapid product development — skills that are needed for energy-industry leaders.”

Tatum added, "My future career will involve collaborating with researchers from different areas to evaluate projects across the spectrum of social, environmental and economic impacts. I believe the EmPOWERment program is really preparing me for these collaborations through working closely with students in many other disciplines and hearing perspectives from different fields through the Energy SCOPE at the Battelle Center.”

EmPOWERment is recruiting graduate students for the second year of the program. Boghrat is leading recruitment efforts in conjunction with other NRT programs around the country that are focused in similar application-theme areas. These recruitment efforts will be targeted toward minority-serving institutions.

Applications for the 2021-2022 academic year will be accepted until June 1, 2021.

abridged version of original article by Joan Slattery Wall, Sustainability Institute at Ohio State