March 20, 2009

New master’s degree would focus on energy, fuels

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE -- A new and unique Southern Illinois University Carbondale master’s degree program in advanced energy and fuels management would give graduates a big advantage in securing good jobs with companies engaged in emerging and renewable energy fields.

The professional science master’s (PSM) in advanced energy and fuels management program is the first of its kind in the country to focus on energy and fuels, and will provide a trend-setting educational experience for the participants. The program would train graduates with backgrounds in science, technology, agriculture, and engineering to apply their theoretical training to real-world management issues and would assist existing and potential employers in filling gaps in their personnel charts, officials said.

The program, under review by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, recently received a boost in the form of a $428,000 federal grant with the assistance of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville. Officials said they would use the money to develop specific curriculum, pay a part-time director and defray other various administrative costs associated setting up the program.

The program would train graduates or mid-career workers with science, technology, engineering or agriculture backgrounds for management positions. David L. Wilson, associate dean and director of the SIUC Graduate School, said the new degree program would attract high-quality students and support from industry.

“It’s pretty exciting and we hope it’s a template for developing other PSM programs on campus,” Wilson said. “This program will equip students with practical training to prepare them to work in the energy industry. We’re looking at workforce needs, and what industry really needs are managers and people who understand how to work with technology.”

Wilson said the proposal, developed with an industrial advisory board, outlines an approximately one-year program beginning in summer and ending the following summer with a capstone internship. Industry consultants wanted the program designed as efficiently as possible, he said, with focus on recent graduates or mid-career individuals with a background in science, technology, engineering and agriculture.

“Our program will help individuals with science and technical backgrounds get jobs as managers. We take talented individuals with a bachelor’s degree in the appropriate area and give them additional training. This training will give them a huge career boost at a time when the nation needs highly trained individuals to resolve the nation’s ongoing energy problems,” Wilson said.

In addition to courses in the energy area, program participants also will take several business courses, such as managerial and organizational behavior, managerial accounting, and project management, to ensure their growth as business managers who work in the energy fields. The program will involve both existing and new, unique courses based in the colleges of science, agriculture, engineering, and business at SIUC.

John S. Mead, director of the Coal Extraction and Utilization Research Center at SIUC, said the curriculum would focus on energy technologies and especially emerging, sustainable, renewable and alternative energy sources.

“It’s a new idea in higher education that is intended for those who want to increase their skills for their career in the energy industry,” Mead said. “This is a good example of how the University can serve the state and the region. We can help make Southern Illinois a more favorable area for energy development, and a location for new energy companies to locate. We’re serving those companies by providing what is very high-level training, and it will help put Southern Illinois on the map for new energy projects.”

Wilson said the University hopes to accept 25 students into each cohort of students, who will work both individually and together in teams as they progress through the program. Officials anticipate the IBHE will approve the program in June, and Wilson hopes to start the first cohort this summer.

If it meets with success, officials said the University might look at creating similar programs for other industry sectors.

“We’ve had great participation by advisers from industry and the environmental community,” Mead said.