By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University is working to produce graduates who are capable of understanding the big picture when it comes to energy.
Gerard D’Souza, professor and chair of the Agricultural and Resource Economics Program in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, is one of the creators of the new Bachelor’s of Science degree in Environmental and Energy Resource Management.
He and Fonda Holehouse, teaching associate professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, came up with the idea for the degree in the spring of 2012.
“West Virginia is kind of in the middle of this Marcellus Shale boom, and of course we have traditional sources of energy like coal and we have new sources of energy including wind,” D’Souza said.
They thought it was time to develop a major that would be ideal for students interested in looking at the energy sector from a broad perspective.
D’Souza and Holehouse applied for funding through the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation to create the curriculum. The Benedum Foundation was generous enough to award a $159,000 grant for the development of this initiative as well as a business plan competition, internship opportunities and an advisory board to go along with the program, D’Souza said.
This spring, the university will start accepting students into the program. Many students are already interested, and the Davis College will change them to the major once it is up and running, he said.
D’Souza said the degree requires 120 credit hours, which a student could accomplish in four year or potentially three and a half. The program is nicknamed E*Quad, and the four Es are energy, environment, economics and entrepreneurship.
“Students completing this major will be prepared for employment in the private sector, governmental
agency employment, consulting and for entrepreneurial ventures of their own design,” Holehouse said in a press release.
While there are other college programs in the country that deal with energy and environmental management, WVU has expanded that idea to also include economics and entrepreneurship, which makes the new degree pretty unique, D’Souza said.
Most degree programs incorporate a capstone requirement for a student’s final year, and E*Quad features a two-part internship, he said. Students will work with an energy company or a regulatory agency, typically during two consecutive summers.
D’Souza said the first summer will be a more general internship, and the second summer will be more specific to the student’s interests and the needs of the employer or government agency. This will be a great opportunity for both the student and the host entity.
Another part of E*Quad is the West Virginia Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge, which was started in the 2012-2013 academic year.
“It’s intended to basically be a venture or a forum for students who have ideas involving high tech or energy-related ideas to develop a business plan that helps them take their idea to fruition,” he said.
The Benedum Foundation and the private sector, including Chesapeake Energy, funded prizes of seed money for the three winning teams.
D’Souza said this contest is not intended to compete with the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, which the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics’ BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship hosts.
In addition, an advisory board has helped fine-tune the degree program, he said. Twenty people representing a wide variety of occupations from different types of energy companies, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies and academia have been involved.
“They provide us with input and act as as sounding board for the curriculum,” D’Souza said.
He said the advisory board will also come into play to offer assistance in the business plan competition and help identify good sources for internships in the area.
WVU responded to the demand that it saw for this degree in Environmental and Energy Resource Management.
“I think it’s a good time for students as well as employers,” D’Souza said.
Email Jessica Borders at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.