WSU engineering degree goes online

Two-year master's degree program will launch in the fall

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PULLMAN — The nation is expected to need more graduates of electrical power engineering programs in coming years, so Washington State University is launching a new online master's degree program.

Washington State officials said Thursday the program will start next fall.

The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported students will analyze power systems, transmission lines and power markets. They will also learn "professional topics" like finance, project management and the law as it applies to the electrical power industry.

The two-year program will also require an internship.

"The nice thing about this particular degree is that it covers technical topics and also professional topics," said Bob Olsen, a professor and program coordinator.

Olsen said the program is a way to help fill growing shortages in the country's engineering workforce.

Universities in recent years have been cutting electrical engineering programs in favor of computer engineering and software development-type programs, Olsen said. That's led to fewer qualified graduates ready to enter electrical engineering careers.

At the same time, Olsen said a large chunk of the nation's electrical engineers are reaching retirement age, and local companies like Avista and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories will be hiring.

A 2006 U.S. Department of Energy report looking at trends in the electrical utility industry found the power engineering education system in the U.S. is weakening.

"Over the past decades, there has been a decline in the United States of the number of students considering power engineering careers, while in many countries outside of the United States, the power engineering profession enjoys more prestige and thus, experiences higher enrollment levels," the report said.

The report also stated that because of aging employees, companies expected "a large amount of workforce turnover in the next decade."

The loss of this "institutional knowledge" is a big concern in the industry, the report said.

Olsen said that's one of the primary reasons why WSU has continued to enlarge its program with more courses and staff while many other institutions are going the other direction.

Olsen said students who earn a master's degree in electrical power engineering will be prepared to work for companies that supply electrical equipment and "anything related to the distribution of electrical energy."