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ESE Graduate Prepared for Future of Industry

April 27, 2018
Woman examines measurement device in lab
Alex Howell analyzes the condensable species, a product of a process called torrefaction process, using a gas chomotagraph-mass spectrometer. (Photo courtesy Alex Howell)

Alex Howell needed to make a decision on her area of study for college, and she had some specific interests in mind.

One of her main goals was finding something that would allow her to make a difference on a large scale. When she came across the energy systems engineering (ESE) program in the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) at the University of Wyoming, she was intrigued because the curriculum involved issues with impacts on the global stage: energy research and consumption.

“I chose ESE because it seemed like a logical area of study that would become very relevant in the coming years, due to the energy dilemma faced by the entire globe,” she says. “Students are exposed to many topic areas including the technical, social and economic considerations that are all key to real energy solutions. Additionally, I was interested in the science behind harvesting energy resources like solar, wind and geothermal.”

A standout student from Morrill, Neb., she had many educational opportunities elsewhere. She chose UW to follow the legacy of her parents and some family members, all of whom attended the university.

“I got several scholarships that made my education much more affordable than other institutions,” she says. “The reputation of the engineering college and the unique ESE program helped me make my final decision.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in ESE and environment and natural resources in 2017, she currently is pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Her background as an undergraduate helped her transition to her master’s program.

“I think the most beneficial part of the ESE program was the diverse class work requirement,” she says. “I was taking mechanical engineering classes, but also was enrolled in classes like geological climate change, natural resource economics, international environmental law and management.

“This program produces well-diversified students who are aware of the complexities incorporated in global issues. Students also emerge well prepared to engage with colleagues from a wide range of backgrounds, and this gives the students many career options to pursue once leaving higher education.”

Howell’s master’s research involves thermochemical pretreatments and subsequent combustion of solid fuels, like coal and biomass. She strives to optimize the performance of biomass integration into technological applications, particularly energy generation. She is also interested in utilizing technology to develop innovative solutions to improve the human environment and enhance existing systems.

The CEAS has begun to implement new methods and curriculum requirements for the ESE degree program, which will enhance student experiences. Howell attributes much of her success and knowledge base to the ESE program.

“I would let (prospective students) know that they are in an exciting and rapidly growing field,” she says. “I would tell them that they have already chosen a great field that will teach them to be innovative and creative problem solvers with the technical background to implement solutions in a wide variety of fields.

“I did not begin this program thinking that I would be studying combustion coming out, but I love the research I get the opportunity to perform and I think other ESE graduates can attest to the wide variety of career prospects available to us.”

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