April 25, 2016

$1 million NSF grant fuels energy scholarships

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – A national research agency has awarded Southern Illinois University Carbondale a new $1 million grant aimed at helping community college students prepare for careers in the energy sector. 

The National Science Foundation awarded the grant from its Division of Undergraduate Education to SIU, said Lizette Chevalier, associate dean of the College of Engineering. The grant, which also serves as a research project in the area of STEM education, is a collaborative, cross-disciplinary effort that involves several academic departments on campus. STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” which is receiving a major push by education leaders throughout the country. 

Students can apply now for the Southern Illinois Energy Scholarship, which on average will be worth about $7,000 a year for two years, Chevalier said. 

Fran Harackiewicz, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the primary investigator on the project. John Evans, director of Institutional Research and Studies at SIU, Karen Renzaglia, professor of plant biology and distinguished scholar, and Chevalier are co-primary investigators, and will help manage the project. 

Harackiewicz will serve as the main contact for students, manage the grant and disseminate the findings of the research component as related to energy education.  The rest of the team will focus on student success, including recruitment, retention and placement, Chevalier said. 

SIU has a long history of educating tomorrow’s energy sector leaders. In addition to this latest scholarship opportunity, the university also is home to the Advanced Coal and Energy Research Center, which awards scholarships and provides a regional resource to help meet the challenges the energy industry will face in the future. 

National education and research agencies, such as the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council, all are emphasizing the need to invest in long-term strategies to secure sustainable solutions for the country’s energy needs. 

Energy touches many areas of research and education, however. To be successful, tomorrow’s leaders must study fields as diverse as renewable energy, so-called “smart grids,” high-efficiency coal technology, energy efficiency in industry, advanced vehicles and bioenergy. 

Strong employment prospects await students who enter those fields, Chevalier said. In Illinois, for example, employment and wage data predict a nearly 9 percent increase in the number of energy related jobs, with the largest growth occurring in energy engineering. 

Chevalier said faculty members recognized the need for innovation and advanced technical knowledge, as well as employment trends in energy related fields, leading them to apply for the grant. In doing so, they reviewed various campus programs and identified energy-related degree pathways through the curricula offered in the colleges of engineering, science, liberal arts, business, and applied science and arts. 

Some of the approaches involve traditional programs, such as geology or mechanical engineering. They also identified graduate level interdisciplinary degree programs, such as the doctoral program in environmental resource policy and the professional science master's degree in advanced energy and fuels management. The university wants to emphasize such programs to attract and retain students who want careers that are relevant to society, have growing employment forecasts and provide opportunities to engage with faculty mentors and research groups, she said. 

The total grant is for $1 million, the majority of which will be available as scholarship money to qualified students, with transfer students from community colleges as the program’s main target. The amount of each scholarship will be based on financial need, Chevalier said.  

“One of the strengths of our program is to build cohorts of students, promoting their retention and sense of being a part of the SIU campus,” Chevalier said. 

Programs eligible for the scholarship include: electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, mining engineering, electrical engineering technology, physics, chemistry, plant biology, geology, geography and architectural studies. 

Eligibility requirements include U.S. citizenship, financial need and have a minimum 3.0 grade point average at the time of application. 

The application information can be found here.