A degree program launched at Oregon State University - Cascades more than a decade ago to address the national need for energy-savvy engineers has contributed more than 200 workers to the field, with most working in Central Oregon and around the state.
One of only six accredited bachelor’s degrees of its kind in the country, the energy systems engineering program is housed in the OSU College of Engineering. Students enrolled in the program gain an understanding of mechanical, electrical and industrial engineering principles, as well as proficiency in energy consumption, distribution, storage, conversion and policies, enabling them to determine engineering solutions that will provide employers and clients maximum energy efficiency.
“The energy systems engineering degree was developed to fill a need in the engineering field that has only heightened as climate change increasingly impacts how we produce, store and consume energy,” said Rebecca Webb, the program’s Tykeson Endowed Faculty Scholar and a senior engineering instructor. “It is a point of pride that the quality of OSU-Cascades’ engineering education is recognized by leading companies in the energy sector as they seek to hire new graduates year after year.”
Since launching in 2011, the program has produced 207 graduates. According to Webb, there is a 95% job placement rate among graduates of the program. More than half of the Class of 2023’s graduates had accepted jobs in the field before receiving their degree.
Eighty-five percent of students who have enrolled in the program are from Oregon, with 45% from Central Oregon.
The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts that Oregon’s workforce will need 750 energy, solar energy and wind energy engineers annually through 2030. Nationwide, more than 31,000 energy, solar energy and wind energy engineers are projected to be needed annually through 2031.
Tucker Ruberti, director of corporate development and strategy with SOLV Energy in Bend, was involved in early discussions about the development of the program.
“It’s been gratifying to watch the program produce graduates who are not only talented technically, but who understand the importance of working in teams and communicating across an organization,” said Ruberti.
Since Ruberti joined SOLV in 2021, the company has hired five alumni of the program. One of them, Bryndon Light, graduated in 2016 and is a senior supervisory control and data acquisition engineer.
“I entered the energy industry ready to contribute. Eight years later, it’s clear that the field is growing at an even faster pace and needs more engineers to solve large-scale energy challenges our world faces,” said Light.
The program has also attracted energy researchers, spurring the launch of research labs and spin-off companies. The Energy Systems Lab, led by Chris Hagen, an engineering professor, has attracted $3.8 million in funding to explore energy conversion. Bend-based Onboard Dynamics was spun-off from research in the lab focusing on natural gas compression technology.
Associate Professor Bahman Abbasi leads the Water Energy Technologies Lab, which addresses the increasing global scarcity of fresh water with energy efficient innovations. It has attracted more than $5.6 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. The WET Lab’s innovations in energy efficient and portable water treatment and mineral extraction technologies launched the spin-off company, Espiku.
Energy 350, Inc., a Portland-based company, has hired four alumni of the program, including Gertrude Villaverde who earned an honors degree and worked in the Energy Systems Lab as an undergraduate. An energy engineer, her work focuses on energy efficient construction and retrofitting of existing buildings and industrial processes, as well as energy efficiency market transformation.
“It’s energy engineers like Gertrude who are rising to the greatest challenge and opportunity of our generation, helping navigate society’s complex energy challenges and driving the clean energy economy,” said Chris Smith, president of Energy 350.
About OSU-Cascades: Oregon State University’s campus in Bend brings higher education to Central Oregon, the fastest growing region in the state. Surrounded by mountains, forest and high desert, OSU-Cascades is a highly innovative campus of a top-tier land grant research university, offering small classes that accelerate faculty-student mentoring and experiential learning. Degree programs meet industry and economic needs in areas such as innovation and entrepreneurship, natural ecosystems, health and wellness, and arts and sciences, and prepare students for tomorrow’s challenges. OSU-Cascades is expanding to serve 3,000 to 5,000 students, building a 128-acre campus with net-zero goals.