Students intrigued in harvesting energy from wind and sun are drawn to Penn State Hazleton, the only campus in the university's system that offers a bachelor's degree in the engineering of power systems and alternative energy.
Since the Bachelor of Science program in Engineering with Alternative Energy and Power Generation Track began three years ago, students have arrived in Hazleton to take upper level courses. Their presence indicates that Penn State Hazleton, which traditionally prepared students to move to other campuses after a year or two of study, also serves as a destination where they can complete a four-year degree.
The engineer of this turnaround, Dr. Wes Grebski, associate professor of engineering, developed the program to meet future demands for power sources that won't run low or add to greenhouse gases.
To craft the program, which he said provides students with strong backgrounds in electrical and mechanical engineering and prepares them to work at traditional power companies or firms designing new power sources, Dr. Grebski drew on the expertise of alumni and business leaders.
They sit on an advisory council, offering suggestions about the curriculum, mentoring students and helping graduates land their first jobs.
Dr. Grebski said the advisory council and alumni who have contributed nearly $1 million for engineering scholarships and equipment in the past five years form an ecosystem that sustains the program.
Alumni returned from jobs at major corporations and government agencies across the nation in April for an advisory council meeting and a reunion at the Hazleton campus, where solar panels, a wind turbine and a solar-powered car that Dr. Grebski built with his students all are on display.
At the reunion, students presented summaries of their capstone projects - research that they've designed to help local industries, whom Dr. Grebski and his colleagues seek out.
"We solicit something that they can use, something a student can design to make a difference," Dr. Grebski said.
At the reunion, the alumni met students like Adebayo Adejare, Tiffany Veet and Brett Fidishun, all juniors.
Focus the Nation honored Adejare in 2011 as a Young Clean Energy Leader for his research on generating natural gas from waste in anaerobic digesters.
"I am just really attracted to the idea of how we can have renewable energy that essentially doesn't deplete. What happens (is) a lot of these renewable systems are also cleaner for the environment. That's better for the future of this planet and the communities we live in and our children and our children's children," he said.
Veet changed her major from bioengineering and relocated to the Hazleton campus to enroll in the alternative energy program after speaking with Dr. Grebski.
"Dr. Grebski said 'The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of rocks.'" Veet said. "We can't wait until we run out. That's what I keep with me, and I think is the best representation of our program. There's better ways out there, and you need to be taking advantage of them."
Fidishun wants to work for PPL, a utility that supplies electricity for Eastern Pennsylvania.
People from PPL, where Fidishun's father works, told him that they are interested in the alternative energy engineering program, and their interest helped spark his.
"A lot of companies, with everybody going green and everybody jumping on that bandwagon of clean power, I just became interested. I thought it would be a big and upcoming field," Fidishun said.
Dr. Grebski said students like Fidishun, Veet and Adejare who graduate from the program will have the training to work at companies like PPL on systems that derive power from fossil fuels. The students, too, might help transform those companies.
"They would have the background to lead the industry towards more sustainable sources," he said. "We don't want to wait until the industry changes."