What makes the PES Scholarship Plus Initiative different from other scholarship programs?
One thing that stands out to me is that the PES Scholarship Plus Initiative is a very large initiative. Of course there are other big programs. But the Scholarship Plus initiative is the only program that is backed and funded by the entire power industry. Our industry as a whole wants to see the power engineering profession become stronger. The support of the scholarship happens on a large scale – there are several hundred supporters, whether they are utilities, educational institutions, contractors, or individuals, every year. The scholarship is a high priority, worldwide effort coordinated by IEEE PES.
The purpose of the scholarship program is to introduce new individuals to our industry. We feel this has to start at the student level. Our initial goal was to double the number of students graduating with power and energy degrees over 5 years. We have more than met that goal. I can say at my university that number has tripled. I think lot of things have contributed to the program’s success and the resulting increase in power and energy graduates. A lot of young people today want to make the world better. Students want to help with the situation of global climate change, and getting off the traditional sources of electricity. At the same time, power and energy is becoming more interesting, for example with the Smart Grid. That attracts electrical engineering students from many sub disciplines, including signal processing, control systems, and more.
With that said, its good timing for this initiative to come around when it did. Many older engineers are retiring with a lot of knowledge of the industry and this knowledge needs to get passed on to the next generation of power engineers. Universities, utilities and other organizations have recognized the value of bringing more new individuals into the industry, and they have responded with a great deal of support for the program.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Do you feel that the Scholarship Plus Initiative has had an impact in getting more students engaged in the Power & Energy industry?
Yes, the initiative definitely helps with the enrollment and engagement of students. When students are enrolled in the program, it helps increase their interest in the power and energy industry, and it also has helped with the growing of IEEE membership. It isn’t the only reason more people are getting involved in the industry, but I think this program helps that interest grow and helps add momentum to the students’ passion for making change.
Do you think IEEE is unique in being able to accomplish this goal of bringing people to the industry?
IEEE, and this scholarship program in particular, have a lot to do with bringing new young engineers into the power industry. The PES Scholarship Plus initiative is the kind of program that helps everybody: it helps the students, it helps the faculty, and it helps businesses by bringing them qualified and interested applicants. The scholarship provides an opportunity to get a lot of people involved, and any time you involve a lot of people you, gain momentum, and it has a big impact.
How does the program help students academically?
This scholarship program has done amazing things for our industry already, and while we have experience the benefits of those students who have gone through the program, the industry is still hurting for talent. When it comes to academic world, some universities teach a power engineering curriculum, and some don’t. For those students who are in universities that don’t have a power engineering program, this initiative may be the only way we can get in front of them to show them the opportunities that are out there. We are seeing schools get more specific in terms of the courses that are offered in electrical engineering, and if power engineering is not among those course offerings, those students are unlikely to be drawn toward our industry. So this scholarship allows us to reach students and get them excited about power, which will hopefully lead them to a career in power.
The Scholarship Plus Initiative helps students academically in many ways. The individuals applying for this scholarship are young. A lot of them are very impressionable, and they haven’t decided what they want to do in their career. If they see that they have the choice of working in the energy industry vs. making a better cell phone, I think because of this program, they can see that that is a choice they have available to them. They then become more involved in their academics as a result of being more engaged in the outcome. This program makes an impression, and encourages more students to get involved in the power industry.
What are your hopes for the program and their plans for addressing future needs of the industry?
My number one hope for this program is that it keeps on going strong. The opportunities for growing and getting young people involved in electric and power engineering are there, and they must be taken advantage of. But you can’t get people involved in something without some kind of enticing challenge or opportunity, that’s why this initiative is so important. The people involved in the initiative and what they are doing to support it and make it grow gives an indication of why this industry is so important. It’s a big deal. And when you start by making a little bit of an impact, and something starts to grow out of that, it can really lead to important change. I think that is what IEEE PES is doing with the Scholarship Plus Initiative.
Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois
Grainger Chair in Electrical Engineering