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University of Texas at Arlington: A new approach to energy and resources

For decades, Texas has been a leader in energy production and consumption. The state is the largest producer of oil, natural gas and wind-powered electricity in the United States, accounting for 43% of oil, 25% of natural gas and 26% of wind energy. Wind energy is just the beginning for renewable sources, as solar, biofuel and wave energy are growing in Texas as well. In fact, renewable energy sources are expected to quadruple by 2025.

It’s not just Texas: With so many options for energy, there is a growing demand worldwide for engineers who understand the entire energy industry, including how all the energy sources can be used in combination in an economical and sustainable manner.

Texas at Arlington

Source: University of Texas at Arlington

To meet this demand, the College of Engineering at The University of Texas at Arlington launched the first Resource and Energy Engineering (REE) bachelor’s degree program in the United States this fall. The program prepares students to apply engineering principles to the design, development and operational evaluation of energy generation, storage, conversion and distribution systems, working with both renewable and conventional sources. Graduates will be ready for immediate employment as energy engineers, design engineers, field engineers, plant engineers, utility engineers, energy auditors, renewable energy system integrators for homes and businesses, local and state government renewable-energy planners, and other positions in the energy field. They will also have a strong background in engineering fundamentals and be able to work well with other technical professionals in the energy and related industries.

As the College explored the creation of the resource and energy engineering program, it called on industry leaders and other experts to determine what types of skills and knowledge would best suit their needs for future employees.

One of those industry leaders, UTA alumnus Kelcy Warren, executive chairman and chairman of the Board of Directors of Energy Transfer LP, made a $12 million gift to help elevate UTA to the forefront of the growing resource and energy engineering field.

The REE program allows students to add a degree of specialization in areas such as sustainability, nuclear, solar and energy governance and offers courses in government and economics so graduates will understand how both technical and societal factors influence and are influenced by the energy industry.

Paul Componation, associate dean for graduate and interdisciplinary affairs, said the addition of the REE program came about because industry asked for help in preparing engineers who have an overall “systems” view of the energy industry.

“We expect to be able to support the energy industry workforce with a particular emphasis on Texas, since that’s where most energy, traditional and renewable, is produced and used,” said Componation. “Long-term, we plan to expand our graduate and research programs to have a greater focus on energy and resources so Texas can continue to be a leader in the industry.”

A truly multidisciplinary degree, the program includes courses in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and industrial engineering, with technical electives in a range of engineering and science fields that will allow students to customize their program. In addition to addressing a vital workforce need, it will ensure that graduates understand both engineering and business interests.

The curriculum includes instruction in renewable and conventional energy, electrical power systems, optimization and energy governance. Graduates of the program will be able to work in both the engineering and business sides of industry to make decisions that will allow companies to choose the most efficient modes of energy production while maintaining corporate social responsibility and a healthy bottom line.

“Students in the REE program need to be interested in the big picture. They need to understand the whole energy system and the broader energy economy. They may have a deeper understanding of a particular sector, but to meet future industry needs, they will have to understand sustainability, business and how government policy affects various energy sectors. The breadth of the knowledge they get here will ensure that they understand everything that impacts the energy industry, not just resources,” said Kendra Wallis, director of the Resource and Energy Engineering Program.

University of Texas at Arlington

Source: University of Texas at Arlington

“For example, as we developed the program, we heard that companies had many engineers who were focused in a particular domain, such as oil, and because of that, it was a challenge to work in new areas. We also heard from companies who wanted their engineers to be able to use data visualization to interpret data and make decisions. The program will provide instruction to ensure graduates are flexible and able to tackle any situation. That’s why our program is unique and why our graduates will be highly sought-after when they enter the workforce.”

Chris Boyer, who spent years working in the energy industry for AES Corporation and is an associate professor of practice in the program, sees REE as a way to fill the expanding workforce.

According to Boyer, energy engineers end up working with multiple sectors. For example, electricity can be generated from oil and gas, as well as renewable resources. This is where UTA’s program will make a difference.

“Throughout history, energy has evolved. There are multiple sources of energy, and they go back and forth. How companies put it all together requires a general understanding of technology and a systems approach. Our REE graduates will fill the growing need to alternate between traditional sources of energy and renewables,” Boyer said.

“Most companies have roles similar to what our graduates will be trained for, but they have to hire a traditional engineer and train them to understand the full range of energy sources. This takes time and money, and companies need people with those skills right away to be competitive. They want to hire engineers who are ready to jump in immediately, and UTA will be there to fill those positions.”

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