Electrical power is critical to the U.S. economy. However, many of the power engineering workforce are eligible for retirement in the near future. The loss of their years of experience is a serious threat to the power system operation, reliability, and efficiency. Building on our strong power program with a high national and international reputation in education and research, we establish a program for recruitment, retention, and mentoring of future power engineering leaders in electric energy and smart grid. Our specific objectives are to increase the number of the following student groups in power engineering by 50%: (i) Bachelor’s, (ii) Master’s, (iii) underrepresented minorities, and (iv) women, by providing opportunities for lower division students, community college students, and four-year university students to study in Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
To achieve this goal, four components are needed: (i) students interested in energy-related fields, (ii) industry interested in hiring qualified students (with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree), (iii) an institutional infrastructure, and (iv) funds for scholarships to enable students to attend university. While the first three components are available at our institution, we have exhausted our scholarship resources due to our recent expansions; therefore, the fourth component is missing. This is a vital component, especially because of the high concentration of low-income, Hispanic-origin students in the nearby counties. Moreover, as the state’s sole land-grant institution, we have strong presence in every county and draws students from a pool that include low-income, first-generation students.
We build on existing support structures such as a bridge program, faculty and industry mentorship, tutors, study groups, internships, field trips, and a hallmark annual poster event, all supported by an industry advisory board consisting of major power companies that provide mentors and internships opportunities and support our recruitment and retention activities. During the first three years of this program, we offered over $300,000 in scholarships averaging $6,000. We discuss the recruitment mechanisms in place (advertising strategies, community college visits, and class visits), activities (practicum, research projects, and field trips), application procedure, and the impact of these scholarships in enabling students continue their studies with a higher quality. Our evaluation results via midterm and exit surveys have indicated the significant positive impact these NSF scholarships have had on the students’ grades, life balance, and even ability to stay in school.
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