Murdock grant will help WSUV develop renewable energy curriculum

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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Washington State University Vancouver will develop curriculum in renewable energy with the help of a $250,500 grant from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

It fits the Salmon Creek campus for academic as well as geographic reasons, said Hakan Gurocak, director of the School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“The state and the Northwest are well-positioned to accelerate the shift toward clean energy,” Gurocak said.

There is need for well-qualified graduates, he added. WSU Vancouver plans to provide them through a one-of-a-kind “option track” that serves three different majors.

The program will combine courses from mechanical engineering, computer science and electrical engineering, and allow students majoring in any of the programs to complete the renewable energy option. The course work will focus on solar energy and wind power.

“The $250,500 will help us buy equipment for laboratories,” Gurocak said. “We want to design it so it would include hands-on activities, not just lectures.”

The grant will help develop eight courses and equip an energy systems laboratory, radio frequency communications laboratory and a clean room. They all will be part of the Engineering and Computer Science building under construction and scheduled to open in January.

The grant also will strengthen the existing robotics, microelectronics and thermo/fluids laboratories.

The one-time grant of $250,500 is enough to get the program up and running, Gurocak said.

“This is for startup and getting off the ground. Once we have it in place, we don’t need to keep asking for this kind of money,” he said.

Courses in renewable energy will begin in spring 2012, with an estimated 100 undergraduate students, five full-time faculty and 10 graduate student teaching assistants.

The grant was awarded to Gurocak and assistant professors Wei Xue, David Chiu and Stephen Solovitz.

Students are looking forward to the program,” Xue said.

“Students are excited. Energy is a key word now,” Xue said. “This will provide opportunities for them in industry and research.”

WSU Vancouver is not following anybody else’s pattern in setting up the curriculum, Gurocak said.

“We are not modeling anybody,” he said. “There are programs at the community college level. There is a four-year degree program at Oregon Institute of Technology, and that degree will say ‘renewable energy.’ Our goal is a traditional degree with an emphasis in renewable energy.”

WSU Vancouver’s renewable energy program has lined up some industrial partners. “There are others we would like to approach in the future,” Gurocak said.

According to a WSU Vancouver news release, studies estimate that the renewable energy sector is expected to provide more than 63,000 skilled, high-paying jobs in Washington and Oregon by 2025.

WSU Vancouver also will offer annual outreach programs through local school districts.

The M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust provides grants to organizations in the region that focus on higher education; scientific research and development; human social services; health care; and the arts. The Vancouver-based trust is among the five largest private foundations in the Pacific Northwest.