Starting this quarter, students can now minor in energy policy, economics and business through Western’s new Institute for Energy Studies.
The institute’s director, Andy Bunn, said understanding these subjects are some of the most important issues facing society this century because not enough universities provide an in-depth education on energy.
“Student excitement is there,” Bunn said. “We don’t have to sell it. They are flocking to us.”
The institute was created as a way to help bridge the schools of environmental studies, business and economics, and science and technology. Students will have the ability to take courses previously unavailable to them, such as chemistry, for a business student because of this program, Bunn said.
The program will offer an education in policy and technology, Bunn said.
“We feel very strongly that students coming out of this program will have a very broad and very deep undergraduate education in energy,” Bunn said.
“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Andy Grant, a senior marketing major at Western with a concentration in sustainable business. “It is crazy how interconnected I feel with students that are in completely different programs because we have a general idea of what we love, where we live and we want to preserve this world for us and other people.”
Bunn said the institute would like to begin offering majors within the next three years, but funds are needed for new professors to ensure the program’s success.
The need to develop the Institute for Energy Studies came after a meeting in 2010, which Bunn and other interested faculty members held with industry professionals to determine gaps in undergraduate energy education. Bunn said they called in business leaders and people who worked at nonprofit energy organizations to tell the university what they were looking for in students going into the energy workforce.
“What they told us is that they really need people who can think broadly across all the different energy disciplines,” Bunn said.
At the time, Bunn said it was very difficult for students to meet this standard.
“If you were a chemistry student it was hard for you to get access to the economics classes. If you were an environmental studies student studying policy it would be hard for you to get access to the chemistry classes that you need to take,” Bunn said. “We’re going to break down boundaries between these different colleges.”
The institute is primarily funded by private organizations such as Puget Sound Energy and Ingersoll-Rand, Bunn said. These donations have funded the creation of three new courses offered within the institute. These courses are energy policy and politics, energy and environment, and economics of alternative energy.
However, to create the major, Bunn said the institute will need more professors.
Bunn and other faculty members will be speaking with the state during the next year to try and gain funding for more professors to create more courses.
Troy Abel, associate professor of environmental studies, started at Western in 2006.
“I’m very excited because I think our initiative in energy studies and all the interest that students have in that topic from policy to science and technology is a really exciting venture across the campus,” Abel said.
Abel said he designed and introduced one of the three new courses for the Institute for Energy Studies. The course is on energy policy and politics. Abel teaches students the history of the subject, its key figures and explores the current state at a global and local level. Abel said these are new topics with new issues he will be adding into the framework of how he teaches.
He said his class hit the full capacity of 20 this quarter.
Bunn said it is important to note that although this knowledge is important, the institute was started because of student interest.
When Bunn started at Western, he taught a class on climate. Bunn said students were realizing they could not study climate without having some knowledge of energy as well.
“Getting access to energy classes was really difficult,” Bunn said.
Grant said the best class he has taken at Western is sustainable marketing. Since taking the class a year ago, Grant said he wishes he could take more classes on the subject.
“Of the places that I have been, Bellingham is pretty much the mecca of this sustainable movement because we’re so locally driven here and we have the beauty of nature around us,” Grant said. “Not being selfish is acting sustainably — I think that mentality is here at Western.”
Bunn said about a half-dozen students have already filed applications to become a minor in the program.