By Karen Dada, Program Manager, Arizona State University’s Master’s program in Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization
Have you ever seen that commercial where a female physicist is celebrated as if she’s a pop diva or movie star? Don’t you wish all engineering disciplines were celebrated for the groundbreaking changes they make to our world and our quality of life? As the manager of Arizona State University’s Master’s program in Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization (SEEC), I am fortunate to be involved in a program that is preparing engineering professionals that will move the world toward a more sustainable, secure and responsible energy future.
Applicants from a wide variety of STEM backgrounds with a shared passion for solar energy and a common goal to make a difference for this and future generations seek out our 12-month graduate degree program because they know it will put them on a track to make a difference. While many graduate engineering students take classes focused on theoretical concepts and research, students in the SEEC program enjoy a curriculum focused on applied learning, allowing them to acquire knowledge that is desired by the professional workforce.
Several cornerstones of the SEEC program give our students a leg up before entering the solar industry. These cornerstones include professional development and networking opportunities, an interdisciplinary curriculum, a national perspective on energy policy and a culminating applied project.
Day one of the SEEC program starts with our Fall Welcome Luncheon, which gives our students the unique opportunity to meet and mingle with energy industry professionals from a variety of markets within the solar industry, including members of our Industrial Advisory Board, our alumni (now industry professionals themselves) and our key faculty members. The professional development opportunities continue throughout the 12-month program at exclusive networking mixers and events, professional conferences and one-on-one mentoring. We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s as much who you know as it is what you know,” so we provide our students with a wide variety of opportunities to learn from the pros, all while developing their professional network.
Our well-rounded interdisciplinary curriculum is constantly updated to reflect industry trends and feedback from our Industrial Advisory Board, ensuring our @ASUSolarGrads learn about issues critical to the solar industry. Required coursework includes photovoltaic engineering, energy policy, project financing and project management. A broad list of technical and non-technical electives allows our students to hone in on areas of interest based on their desired sector of the solar industry, be it policy, engineering, governmental, utility, small-scale markets, or even entrepreneurship. This unique mix of technical and non-technical electives makes it possible to complete the degree in only 12 months, with students taking 12 credits during the fall and spring semesters six credits in the summer.
Speaking of summer – this is the time when the last two of our program’s cornerstones complete the foundation of this unique program. The first summer activity is to get out of town, literally. We fly our students to Washington DC in late May where they get to spend a week at ASU’s DC campus. Our landmark Solar Energy Policy seminar is a busy week meeting with policy analysist, lobbyists and government officials from around the country and even the world. The itinerary for this trip is unique and changes from year to year, but past cohorts have enjoyed meetings with the Assistant Secretary of the Army (inside the Pentagon!), lobbyists from the Green Building Council and the National Homebuilder’s Association, and they even have met with some of Arizona’s congressional delegation.
Once the week-long energy policy seminar in DC wraps up, it’s time for our students to put the finishing touches on their applied project, which they have been working on to some degree since they started the program. In early fall, students are given worksheets to help target their educational and professional goals. Our aim is for the @ASUSolarGrads to realize that every class, meeting conference and lecture provides an opportunity to develop an applied project topic. Throughout the program, our industry partners may also present ideas and real-world projects that are waiting for just the right student or team. Following the winter break, students present their project concepts to our Industrial Advisory Board at our very own Shark Tank. This is one of the highlights for our program because it allows students to vet their project ideas before committing too much time and energy and helps to ensure that the topic is relevant to the solar industry and is a reasonable scope. Students continue their project development throughout the spring and present the final reports in a conference-style session at the end of the summer.
As you can see, the SEEC program is busy but presents our students with robust opportunities to engage with industry professionals throughout their graduate education. We set our students up to succeed with everything from professionally printed business cards to facilitating their attendance at professional conferences, such as Solar Power International where they can join over 20,000 industry representatives and check out a trade show of over 700 exhibits. Bringing students to this conference is one of my favorite activities because not only do I get to see current students experience this large-scale conference, but I also get to see our alumni who are now attending as industry professionals, some even delivering conference presentations. It is for these reasons that I feel excited about the opportunities our future engineers have to make a difference, whether it be for one family or for an entire community.
If you’d like to learn more about our program, check out these short videos that show the perspective of some of our students, and of our industry partners. You can always contact me at email@example.com to learn more!
This content has been contributed by Arizona State University’s Master’s program in Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization as as part of a promotional digital content program.