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There are no in-state programs for Alaskan students interested in seeking degrees in renewable/clean energy at the BA, BS, MS, PhD level. There are no minor degrees awarded for undergraduate study of renewable energy, nor are there graduate level certificates in renewable/clean energy awarded in the state. The fact that no renewable energy degrees or certificates are being conferred in Alaska belies the fact that researchers at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP), on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, are engaged in some of the most serious clean energy/microgrid research in the nation.
Student appetite for renewable energy coursework is evident, but a clear barrier to meeting this demand within the University of Alaska system is faculty bandwidth. Renewable Energy Systems Engineering is sporadically on offer through the Mechanical Engineering program at UAA. Department Chair Tom Ravens has expressed some surprise at the consistently strong student interest for what is, elective coursework. UA professors Getu Hailu and Jifeng Peng teach this course, and both professors are currently engaged in renewable energy research projects within Alaska. Professor Rich Wies at UAF last taught Electrical Engineering 693: Renewable and Sustainable Energy Systems in the Fall 2013. This also proved a popular class, but has not been offered in five years because of the pressing demand on faculty to teach core Electrical Engineering courses.
Without an increase in the capacity of faculty to teach specialized coursework; renewable engineering degree programs at the University of Alaska seem out of reach. It is worth noting, this instructor staffing challenge is another example of a statewide problem: a train-the-trainer shortage; one that hampers the progress of clean energy education within the K-12 and Vocational sectors as well.
Renewable energy degree programs outside of the engineering discipline could be feasible and warrant consideration. A fair proportion of Lower 48 universities with renewable energy programs have established inter- or multidisciplinary degree programs. Interesting examples include MBA, MS and BS programs that draw on economics, public policy, social science departments. Noteworthy examples include programs at: ASU: School of Sustainability; Appalachian State University: Sustainable Technology; The Energy Institute at the University of Michigan; Columbia University: Earth and Environmental Engineering / Sustainable Energy; Syracuse University: Energy and Its Impacts BS; University of California at Berkeley: Energy Institute at Haas.
The University of Alaska seems uniquely positioned to draw on several departments to perhaps fashion an Energy MS, MA or Minor program that could, for example, include coursework within existing departments such as: Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development, Geography, School of Natural Resources and Development, Rural and Community Development and/or courses within the Engineering Department.
A University of Alaska partnership with Alaska Pacific University’s Sustainable Energy (BA) Program, could be beneficial to both institutions if the immediate goal is to build a multi-disciplinary degree program. APU’s intention to become a Tribal College and its close affiliation with ANTHC, could provide an avenue where student coursework incorporates ANTHC renewable energy fieldwork/projects.