October 27, 2015

Three-part course grounds new Duke students in energy fundamentals

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

With more than 50 courses and multiple degree programs spread across six schools, it can be a challenge to introduce Duke University students to the wealth of opportunities for studying energy at the university – and for working in energy professions once they graduate.

The Energy Initiative answered that challenge this fall by transitioning a one-day primer for new business students into a multi-day, broad-based program for any Duke student interested in energy.

Energy Industry Fundamentals (EIF) is designed to provide students of all levels and disciplines with an overview of the major themes and current issues surrounding the global energy system, as well as an introduction to the wide array of research activities conducted by Duke's energy faculty.

More than 150 students turned out, ranging from undeclared freshmen to professional students to doctoral candidates.

"I've always been interested in energy," said Tevin Brown, a freshman from Newnan, Ga., who hopes to develop a self-designed major focusing on atmospheric science and renewable energy. "When I heard that there would be energy discussions on campus, I seized the opportunity. As an undergrad, it's great to have an environment where I can learn alongside graduate students."

Each session featured presentations from an interdisciplinary group of faculty members, who described their research in relation to the greater questions facing the energy system. Topics included markets and policy, materials science, data analytics and behavioral economics. Videos of some of the presentations are available on the Energy Initiative's YouTube channel.

"We got this 360-degree view of energy," said Benjamin Lozier, a first-year student in the Nicholas School's Master of Environmental Management program. "Our professors are attempting to answer some fascinating questions, and they can approach similar problems in very different ways."

Lozier also noted the benefit of connecting with students outside his degree program and "really appreciated hearing questions and different thought processes from MBAs, engineers and others."

Professor Steven Sexton, an economist in the Sanford School of Public Policy, echoed the sentiment as a faculty participant: "I enjoyed learning about the topics my colleagues address in their teaching and research. It was exciting to discover common interests that suggest opportunities for collaboration both in the classroom and in the research lab."

Sexton was also impressed with the size, diversity and enthusiasm of the audience.

"EIF attracted a standing-room-only crowd of engaged students who were eager to learn about the dramatically changing energy landscape," he said. "The quality of the discussion and the probative value of their questions suggest they will be well-prepared to shape energy markets in the future and to capitalize on emerging opportunities."