Sarah Eckinger

The Energy Studies Program continues to grow, increasing both its course offerings and admitted class size.

The Energy Studies Program was originally launched under the Yale Climate & Energy Institute. After the YCEI’s closing last June due to a lack of funding, the program — now in its fourth year — was incorporated into the Department of Geology and Geophysics. There are currently 99 students enrolled, and the latest admissions cycle, which ended in December, saw the highest admitted class in program history, with 36 students.

“[The program] provides an opportunity for Yale College students to engage in the broader energy community at Yale and develop a solid expertise in energy issues to prepare them for careers in the new energy economy,” said Kenneth Gillingham, an economics professor and a member of the faculty advisory committee for the program.

Michael Oristaglio GRD ’74, the program’s founding director and a researcher in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, attributed the increased interest to changes in the application procedure. According to Oristaglio, all four multidisciplinary academic programs — Energy Studies, Education Studies, Global Health Studies and Human Rights — coordinated the timing of the applications for the first time this year. Energy Studies previously publicized and opened its application in the spring semester, while most programs did so in the fall, Oristaglio added.

Josh Swerdlow ’19, a student enrolled in the program, said he decided to apply after November’s presidential election.

“I had always felt interested in green energy, but felt a lot more motivated to do something about it knowing the government probably wasn’t going to do what I felt was right,” he said.

The ongoing interest in the program also stems from the fact that energy, as Nobel laureate Richard Smalley put it, is “the most important issue facing humanity,” according to Gary Brudvig, director of the Yale Energy Sciences Institute, professor of chemistry and a member of the faculty advisory committee for the program.

Eric Esposito ’17, a student representative for the program, concurred, saying that growing interest in the program may be due to students seeing the importance of energy systems in their everyday lives.

Daniel Prober, physics professor and a member of the program’s faculty advisory committee, pointed out that Yale has made significant progress in energy and sustainability. For example, Prober said, the discipline of energy physics and combustion science originated at Yale. The University has been constructing “green” buildings in the past 25 years, he added, including Kroon Hall and the University’s cogeneration power plant.

“Viewing these gems, and understanding their advances, is important learning — especially for a typical Yale nonscience major,” he said. “The challenges are huge, and actually knowing something real is the only way to move forward.”

Energy Studies offers three tracks: Energy Science and Technology; Energy and the Environment; and Energy and Society. Every student has to take at least one course in each, plus three more electives in the chosen path, in addition to a senior capstone project.

Moreover, starting this year, students are also expected to take the program’s gateway course, “Energy Technology and Society,” which used to be optional. Oristaglio said the change came in response to survey results from the program’s first two graduating classes, which indicated that students wanted a chance to get together from the very beginning of the program.

“We have done an exit seminar where we get them together at the end,” he said. “But we felt it was even better to get them together at the start, so they get to know each other.”

According to Oristaglio, students are also encouraged to take a climate science course from the Energy and the Environment track as their required class, and most students do. The track saw an increase in offerings in climate science courses this year, which have been very popular, he added.

Esposito highlighted that the program offers a chance to work with Casey Pickett SOM ’10 FES ’10, the director of Yale’s Carbon Charge Project, on a variety of new projects beginning in July.

“The curriculum provided me with the necessary foundation in technical energy science to evaluate energy policy and environmental questions,” Esposito said. “More, now than ever, the Energy Studies program is important in order to develop critical thinkers with multidisciplinary backgrounds.”

Swerdlow added that the program is a good way for those who care about the environment and energy usage to study the topics while maintaining their primary academic interests and majoring in something unrelated. He added that stopping climate change will be easier if more people are both aware of its existence and how to manage it.

The program’s first class included nine students.