New Energy Minor Helps UH Students Broaden Their Focus

New Minor Takes an Interdisciplinary Approach And Is Open To Students In Any College

Scott Wallace was building his own do-it-yourself concentration in energy and sustainability when the University of Houston caught up with him.

The University’s interdisciplinary minor in Energy & Sustainability officially launched in Spring 2013. Wallace will be among the first students to graduate with the credential in December, along with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

The minor requires 18 hours of course work, including a final research project. It is based in the Honors College but is open to students in any discipline.

It includes an introductory course, taught by Joseph Pratt, NEH-Cullen Professor of Business and History and director of the program, and Ognjen Miljanic, an assistant professor of chemistry. Other courses are drawn from the colleges of architecture, natural sciences and mathematics, engineering, technology and liberal arts and social sciences.

That interdisciplinary approach, along with the interaction with students from other fields of study, is an important part of the program, Pratt said. “It’s what students will have to do in the real world, cooperate across disciplines.”

The minor is part of the University’s energy initiative, which focuses on energy education, research and technology incubation. It also seeks to bring people together from different disciplines across the campus to collaborate on issues related to energy and sustainability.

William Monroe, dean of the Honors College, said the minor is intended to complement both technical majors, such as engineering, geology and business, as well as those in the humanities. It can give engineers a broader worldview, while offering students with political science or other liberal arts degrees an additional credential.

“It’s something to make a degree a little more practical,” Monroe said.

Terrell Hallmark, a political scientist who spent most of his career conducting risk analyses for the energy industry, is coordinator of the program and will teach several classes.

Sustainability is of growing interest on college campuses and among honors programs nationwide. Hallmark will represent the Energy & Sustainability program and the UH Honors College during a round-table discussion on sustainability at the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in New Orleans in November.

It’s unclear exactly how many students will enroll in the minor, although 70 students are taking the introductory class this fall. Pratt said he expects most will go on to complete the minor.

But even if they don’t, he said the knowledge they gain from the class – an introduction to the energy industry and issues related to energy and sustainability – will prove valuable.

Wallace took the introductory course last spring but had already completed several courses that counted toward the minor. He became interested as he realized that society needed to reduce energy consumption, and he hoped to be involved in developing future technologies.

He is working on a research project with Pratt, looking at how strategies to enhance oil recovery have evolved over time and the prospects for the future.

And although that project, along with his engineering capstone project has made this a busy semester, Wallace said it’s worth it.

“This minor gives people from all degree programs a chance to show a focus on energy and sustainability,” he said. “There are so many majors that can be relevant to the industry. It’s nice to show a line on your resume, to say, ‘Here is some experience I have.’ ”