"I don't think the energy problem is going to go away any time soon," said University of Dayton student Fiona Martin, 22, who is among the first students to be accepted into the new program beginning next month. "This isn't something we can ignore anymore."
Degrees will be awarded by the University of Dayton and Wright State University, with classes also held at Central State and the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Classes will focus on developing energy-reducing design techniques and better forms of solar energy, fuel cells and biofuels.
The program builds upon interest among college students in wind power, solar power and other renewable energy technologies.
Hocking College in southeastern Ohio began offering an associate degree in alternative fuel technologies in 2003 offering one program that focuses on wind, solar and other technologies and another program focusing on hybrid vehicles and batteries.
"We literally started this campus in a cornfield," said Jerrold Hutton, dean of advanced energy and transportation technology at the Hocking College Energy Institute in Logan. The first class had three students. This fall there were 41 first-year students, and Hutton expects twice as many next fall.
Martin, a mechanical-engineering major from Chesterton, Ind., became interested in renewable energy when she worked for a company in Germany, helping the firm with solar and wind projects. Then last summer, she worked for a Chicago company that audits commercial buildings and shows companies how to save energy.
"It's nice to be able to kind of contribute, to be able to have an impact on the environment and to help people save money, especially in times like this when money is very tight," she said. "Renewable energies are great, but they are still not as efficient as they could be. The technology is coming. But the opportunity right now is really to reduce energy consumption where we are using it excessively."
As part of the master's program, Martin will direct students to do similar energy audits of low-income housing, churches and buildings owned by community organizations.
After getting her degree, she plans to go back to work with the Chicago company. After that, she might go into business doing energy audits of homes and maybe teach at the university level.
Paul Talley, 55, of Huber Heights, intends to apply for the program at Wright State. Talley is a manufacturing engineer for auto supplier Delphi Corp., but the plant where he is working is closing at the end of the year.
Talley believes finding cheaper energy is necessary to revitalize U.S. manufacturing and that graduates of the program will be in demand.
"Alternative energy if we're going to survive, it's absolutely inevitable," he said.
Martin also believes there will be a healthy demand for graduates with degrees in renewable energy.
"I really can't see this field shrinking," she said. "I can only see it growing in the future."