Yale renews focus on energy education

After more than two years of student demand for a more comprehensive curriculum on renewable energy and fossil fuels, students and faculty formalized plans Wednesday for a new undergraduate program in energy studies.

The proposed program, an energy certificate awarded by the Yale Climate and Energy Institute, is not a Yale College major but would coordinate course instruction on both the policies and physical science behind the energy industry. Although the program is still pending full approval and a YCEI committee has yet to finalize its details, professors in Yale’s science departments said they hope the program will be in place by fall 2012.

The University currently does not offer a concentration within any major that focuses on energy as its own field of study, and science departments had not prioritized the study of energy until the YCEI began discussing the certificate in December 2010, YCEI deputy director Gary Brudvig said. Students in the Yale Undergraduate Energy Club also discussed the idea with faculty at their weekly meetings, said Erik Urosa ’13, the club’s vice president and a participant in discussions for the certificate.

“[The certificate] really came out of an interest expressed by the students,” said Brudvig, who teaches a class on alternative energy. “[Energy] hasn’t had as much of a focus on campus as many students felt it should.”

According to a current draft of the proposal, the certificate would require students to complete seven courses in energy science, policy and economics, and climate and environmental impact, along with a senior “capstone” project. As of now, the certificate will have no prerequisites.

The proposed energy program would function similarly to the World Health Fellows certificate run by the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Brudvig said. The program would not force departments to change their courses to work with each other, but professors across departments would have to approve all of the plan’s requirements for the certificate to move forward, he said.

Urosa said that without a formal option for studying energy, undergraduates interested in energy policy have typically pursued majors in engineering, economics or environmental studies.

“This program allows everyone to explore the area in an interdisciplinary way that hasn’t been available before,” Urosa said.

While Yale currently offers some courses on energy, such as this fall’s seminar on fossil fuels and energy in the Department of Geology and Geophysics this fall, David Bercovici, chair of the Geology and Geophysics Department, said that a new class on renewable energy that would become part of the certificate is pending approval for the spring. The class would be taught by Geology and Geophysics professor Ron Smith, Bercovici added.

Though Urosa said the certificate would not require Yale to hire new professors, Brudvig said he hopes the initiative would encourage departments to create additional courses on energy and expand their faculty in those areas. Still, University administrators have said they do not plan to grow Yale’s faculty beyond its current size of approximately 710 members in the short term.

Ana Litman ’13, president of Yale’s Energy Club, said she thinks the proposed certificate is particularly important given the prominence of energy issues in today’s world.

“There’s a growing recognition among students that energy is going to be one of the defining issues of our generation,” Litman said.

The proposed energy certificate would ask interested students to apply during their sophomore spring.

Comments

  • dbster

    See also the Yale Alumni in Energy group, at http://yaleae.org/
    which has held an annual meeting on campus in March the last three years and has one
    planned for March 22-23, 2012