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A Dream for Graduate Energy Education Becomes Reality

Professor Samiha Mourad's vision of an interdisciplinary graduate degree program in sustainable energy at Santa Clara University has become a reality. But the dream doesn't stop there, according to Mourad, the William and Janice Terry Professor of Electrical Engineering. The IEEE Fellow is now looking forward to creating an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in sustainable energy.

Mourad conceived the idea of an interdisciplinary graduate degree program in sustainable energy in 2009, during the semiconductor industry downturn. The program grew out of a desire to help electrical engineers gain the necessary tools to enter the emerging field of solar energy and also to serve the growing solar industry in Silicon Valley by educating today's energy experts.

Claudia Chen (far left) and members of SCU’s Energy Club on a Campus Sustainability Tour
Claudia Chen (far left) and members of SCU’s Energy Club on a Campus Sustainability Tour
Photo: courtesy of Claudia Chen

Starting with a certificate in renewable energy, the program has grown to include a master's degree in sustainable energy. From the beginning, Mourad has been insistent that the program be interdisciplinary in scope. "This is not your mother's energy anymore," she explained. "In the 1970s, the School of Engineering had energy courses in electrical and mechanical engineering, but today engineers must understand energy holistically—what it is; how it is generated, used and conserved; and how it can be managed through a smart grid. This entails combining elements of civil, computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering into the curriculum along with courses in economics, ethics, and energy policy. With this thorough knowledge of the comprehensive nature of energy, students then further their technical knowledge within their own particular discipline through a growing list of courses such as biofuel, storage devices, etc."

This field of study draws a passionate group of students, so Mourad's next idea was to harness that energy through the formation of the SCU Energy Club. Club president and cofounder Claudia Chen came to SCU with a bachelor's degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California, Davis. "I wanted to work in sustainability and energy and found a great program here," said Chen, who, in addition to her graduate study, works part time with a local environmental consulting group. "Since the club's inception last spring, we've held a film screening, visited a power station, hosted guest lecturers, and taken a tour of the SCU campus led by the University's sustainability director.." Last quarter, the club invited a renewable energy consultant and the deputy director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's nuclear fission research team to speak at SCU. "That's the great thing about the University," Chen said. "You have the chance to explore so many different things."

"I really like what we're doing with this program. We are generating the workforce that really makes things work. And we are doing it the right way, with a program that is not the offshoot of any one engineering discipline," said Mourad, adding, "I would love to see us offer an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in sustainable energy!" The dream continues.