Unique UW Engineering Program Gains Accreditation

September 6, 2012
Crane installing equipment
Equipment is installed in the Jonah natural gas field in western Wyoming. The University of Wyoming’s Energy Systems Engineering program prepares students for employment in the oil and gas industry, as well as other energy industries in the state and nation. (UW Photo)

An innovative University of Wyoming program -- which aims to produce engineers to address the nation’s energy challenges -- is the first of its kind in the United States to receive national accreditation.

The Energy Systems Engineering Bachelor of Science degree program, offered by UW’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, received accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).

The undergraduate program was started in 2009 and already has produced 14 graduates. All have found energy-related jobs or have moved on to graduate school.

Also receiving ABET accreditation was UW’s Petroleum Engineering program, which is back among the nation’s accredited petroleum engineering programs after an approximately 16-year hiatus.

“Accreditation of these programs is a clear signal that we’re properly preparing our students for careers in energy-related fields,” says Robert Ettema, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science. “UW now can move forward more assertively to gain national prominence for these degree programs.”

Offered through the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the Energy Systems Engineering (ESE) program aims to produce graduates prepared to help the nation achieve energy independence and continue to meet the growing demand for energy, while simultaneously addressing critical environmental concerns.

Coursework is similar to that taken by mechanical engineering students, but with more focus on environmental, ethical, economic, legal and, especially, permitting aspects of energy conversion systems. Students may elect to take various courses in alternative energy systems that are expected to play an even larger role in a carbon-constrained future.

The overarching goal of the novel curriculum is to present a comprehensive, or “systems,” approach to addressing new energy challenges.

That broad approach has proven valuable for Luke Provart, a Cody High School graduate who earned his ESE degree last December. He landed a job as an engineering technician with Wyoming Completion Technologies in Powell, where he works on tool design for oil and gas drilling companies, drill string design and electrical transmission line design.Students in UW’s Energy Systems Engineering program may elect to take various courses in alternative energy systems, such as wind farms.

“The greatest part, I’ve found, with this ESE degree is that it gives you such a general and broad perspective of the entire engineering profession,” says Provart, who began his studies at UW as a civil engineering major. “It gives you a lot more options.”

Indeed, Provart’s fellow ESE graduates have found jobs in an array of energy-related fields. Employers of ESE program graduates include Halliburton, Kiewit Mining, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alliance for Green Heat (a nonprofit lobbying firm), KB Energy (meteorological data acquisition for potential new wind energy sites) and Stanley Consultants (wind, solar and hydroelectric control systems).

The ESE program has proven to be particularly attractive to female students: It has the second-highest percentage of women of all of the nine degree programs in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Fifty of the 350 undergraduates currently in the Department of Mechanical Engineering are enrolled in the ESE program.

“This innovative program is filling an important need in preparing students for careers in the ever-changing energy field,” says Paul Dellenback, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “It’s especially important in a state and region with such a diverse energy mix.”

Provart agrees, noting the need for workers in the production of coal, natural gas, oil, uranium and renewable energy -- and the government agencies that regulate the industries -- in Wyoming.

“Having a major like this, one of a kind in the nation, is pretty nice for both the university and the state,” he says.

While some of Provart’s fellow graduates have found work in other states, he says he’s happy to be among those staying in Wyoming.

“For me, it was a real perk to stay in Wyoming” and return to his home of Park County. “I really enjoy my work up here.”

ABET is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that accredits college and university programs in the disciplines of applied science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. ABET accreditation, which is voluntary and achieved through a peer-review process, provides assurance that a college or university program meets the quality standards established by the profession for which the program prepares its students. ABET is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

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