In a collaborative effort, Texas Tech University’s National Wind Institute and three other universities are teaming up to offer graduate students courses from each institution.
In an effort to enhance the graduate certificate in wind energy through Texas Tech University's Graduate School,the National Wind Institute (NWI) received an Innovative Graduate Education grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to combine resources with Northern Arizona University (the lead institution on the grant), the University of Massachusetts Amherst and The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State).
The four institutions each will offer online, multidisciplinary courses to students who, upon completion, will receive a graduate certificate in wind energy from the respective university where they originally enrolled. Courses offered include science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), as well as business and law.
"We all have wind programs," said Andy Swift, a professor and associate director of education at the NWI and the principal investigator (P.I.) on the grant,
"but the wind energy business is new and just getting started, so the programs aren't complete at any of the four institutions. There's a limited number of faculty and classes. Each school offers a graduate certificate in wind energy: five classes. None of us have a full master's degree in wind energy at this point. So by combining resources, we can give more robust offerings to the students. It's very comprehensive."
The four universities will work through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (Great Plains IDEA), an interactive platform bringing together several universities with limited resources and allowing them to share classes on a common website.
The collaboration goes beyond just course offerings.
"There are going to be several components," Swift said. "One is the course sharing, but because it's an innovative grant, we're planning to also offer webinars. We have an industrial advisory board, which is just being formed, and we'll bring in speakers. So if you're enrolled in the certificate at any of the institutions, you can go in and participate in these webinars on special topics."
The hope is that this new undertaking will help those in the growing wind energy field obtain much-needed education, as well as recruit underrepresented groups into the industry.
"This is a fairly new field, but the national need is growing," Swift said. "Wind industries now employ well over 100,000 people, and a lot of them are in the industry without any formal education. And as it grows, that is not sustainable.
"But we also want to help build the workforce by recruiting underrepresented groups who are in a minority status in the STEM disciplines. We have an active program, as part of the grant, to reach out through these webinars and some of the student organizations to try and bring in more underrepresented minorities for the program."
The new program is set to launch in fall 2020, with Texas Tech offering Advanced Technical Wind Energy I and II; Advanced Managerial Wind Energy I and II; and Renewable Energy.