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Discuss: Where to Study Sustainable Engineering, Design
Emily Gertz, 30 Oct 07

With last week's topic on where to study sustainable business still attracting great comments and new information, I thought we'd broaden the conversation to talk about where to study sustainable engineering and design. Anecdotally, I hear that it's still pretty hard to find engineering programs that are reorienting to include work in biomimicry, say, or cradle-to-cradle design, but hopefully you all know more...
discuss!

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Comments

At the graduate level I would say that sustainable engineering is largely about interdisciplinary studies. At the undergraduate level I would look for programs in systems sciences. A handful of smaller schools have programs specifically oriented towards systems thinking, though I'm not aware of any larger schools that do the same.

AASHE is one place to start looking for specific programs and schools. Their directory is behind a paywall, although their annual bulletin is available for free.


Posted by: Mike Simons on 30 Oct 07

I studied the Masters of Philosophy in Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge, UK. As an environmental engineer, I already had a good background in the environmental aspects of sustainability. During my year in the MPhil programme, I developed a deeper understanding of the innovation, business, employment and justice issues of sustainability, and how I, as an engineer, could help redesign socio-technical systems.

The course is not highly technical, instead focusing on systems thinking and bringing to our attention the tools we can use when we go back to our jobs after graduation.


Posted by: joanium on 31 Oct 07

I am an engineer for a nonprofit specializing in appropriate and sustainable technology startups and am often in the position of hiring engineers, students and interns and have trouble finding people with both the passion and the technical savvy. Often it seems that the people who passionately care about environmental crises study it from more of a 'soft science' side qualifying them for the (important!) roles of outreach and education. Unfortunately that means that the vast majority of chemical, industrial, and power systems engineers don't share the concern but often make the crucial decisions.

I regularly interview people who could brilliantly teach high school students why wind power generally is cool... but almost no one who can work with a utility actually integrate turbines into their grid. It's a big problem!

So although I could happily point to some great programs (DTU in Lyngby, Denmark for building efficiency and windpower) I believe it's most important for burgeoning designers to focus on getting hard engineering skills that you can pick up at most decent universities if you're careful to take on the challenging classes (even if they aren't explicitly environmental).

For example: There is a dearth of power systems engineers generally, but definitely in those who would prefer renewables to coal. Nuclear power proponents often say that environmentalists don't know what they are talking about... which is why we need skeptics who are nuclear engineers! Industrial and Chemical engineering is often the domain of people who don't believe pollution is a problem, but they're also the people who can choose how massive amounts of waste are dealt with (or not!).

The point of this post is mostly just to ask talented people to not be afraid to take tech-heavy classes even if the professor/program isn't remotely environmental. These fields MUST change, but the only way that can happen is for the next generation to move in, learn what they know, and then invent the next step.


Posted by: Micah on 31 Oct 07

This is a great subject. I am an undergraduate student who is highly interested in studying sustainable engineering. I am having a very difficult time choosing a course of study. I am in Phoenix, Arizona and must remain local. There are a couple of options through Arizona State University. They just started a polytechnic campus that is offering an electronics engineering technology degree with the focus of alternative energy. This sounds great and is very specialized, but I wonder how an engineering tech degree versus a traditional engineering degree will compare in the job market. Additionally, they are just starting to implement a program in sustainability as well (This is rumored to be the first in our country). This is not an engineering degree, but probably could be combined with one. And finally there is the traditional environmental engineering option. I am very interested in a technical career versus a social one. Any thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated.



Posted by: Jess on 31 Oct 07

As an engineer active in Dartmouth College's Thayer School of Engineering, I feel compelled to give "the Big Green" a plug. While host to only a mid-sized graduate program, Thayer does place a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary, comprehensive-product thinking and features active world-class development of several sustainability-related technologies. The biofuel processing and nano-photovoltaics projects are good examples to consider.

Oh, and this term there's an ongoing lecture series on energy solutions now available as video or audio online, if anyone's interested in watching some keen presentations by cutting-edge experts.


Posted by: Theodore Test on 31 Oct 07

We are finding an increasing number of academic institutions that are including or even focusing on biomimicry, sometimes based in the sciences and sometimes based in design. You can see an as-yet-incomplete list of schools that are offering courses on our website http://biomimicryinstitute.org/education/university/ .


Posted by: Denise DeLuca on 1 Nov 07

Jess:

"Additionally, they are just starting to implement a program in sustainability as well (This is rumored to be the first in our country). This is not an engineering degree, but probably could be combined with one."

I was just accepted into this program for Spring '08. They offer either an MS for the engineering side of things and an MA for the policy side of things. I'm not sure what qualifies an MS as being "engineering" or "not engineering," other than being a part of the engineering school--which the School of Sustainability is not. Regardless, they have research and classes that are definitely focused on the technical side of things.

In addition to ASU's School of Sustainability, take a look at the NCE SMART program as well:

http://www.asusmart.com/

I get the feeling that I'm going to be defining my own curriculum and projects a bit, since the school is so new. I'll probably take some classes in the engineering school while pursuing my degree--I have an engineering background already, so the School of Sustainability is really, imo, just applying what I know to the problem of sustainability.


Posted by: Bolo on 1 Nov 07

I should also add that if you're curious about exactly what ASU has to offer, it never hurts to email the School of Sustainability directly--or even a few professors. My experience is that the profs. can be pretty busy though, so you may need to send a 2nd email if they don't reply within a week or so :).


Posted by: Bolo on 1 Nov 07

Hi Emily, Great question. I am excited that so many worldchangers are asking about degrees in sustainable engineering. As Micah and others point out, we definitely need more talented and concerned people taking technical courses. Humboldt State University offers three undergraduate courses of study that have a sustainable engineering focus:
1. Environmental Resources Engineering (disclosure: I am an instructor in this degree)
2. Environmental Science with a focus on technology
3. Appropriate Technology Minor

These courses prepare students to effect positive change through engineering design. We also offer some master's programs that are quite effective. Many other schools are starting to address sustainability as well, e.g. Penn State, Clarion and MIT all have programs that address sustainability in engineering.

Thank you,
Lonny Grafman


Posted by: Lonny Grafman on 2 Nov 07

I would highly recommend Stanford University - of course that's where I went to school. But Stanford's school of engineering has always been on the leading edge of new technology. While getting my Master's there in Civil & Environmental Engineering in the Atmosphere & Energy Department, not only did I learn about everything from renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, energy policy, but also had access to teachers and other students studying various other aspects of energy and design. The School of Design is also very highly recommended and has already started to encourage cradle-to-cradle design.

One of the greatest things about Stanford is the amazing people that roll through for lectures and conferences. Stanford is one of the leading Universities in terms of sustainability now and is at the heart of technologies at the forefront (Google, Tesla, MANY Solar Manufacturers, Wind Farm Developers, etc). Venture Capital firms surround the University and sometimes all you need is a good idea and a connection to get your company off the ground.

I'd also recommend Berkeley - even though we're supposed to be rivals. There were equally amazing lectures going on there and some teachers that I would have loved to have taken classes with. Just being in the Bay Area has many advantages in terms of companies and non-profits who have their headquarters there.


Posted by: Bridgette on 3 Nov 07

Wow! Great article, now I want to move somewhere and take classes!! I would plug our program on sustainable design yet it is not specifically for engineers. Instead I will ask if anyone out there is interested in helping to define a curriculum. It would be about building lifeboats (whatever those might turn out to be). I increasingly feel like I am walking the decks of the Titanic watching the last dinner party. The question is: what are the essential skills that folks need to reconfigure life and work? It would help if you have read both _The Long Emergency_ by Kunstler and _With Speed and Violence_ by Pearce. I am not saying either is completely on the money, just that they both get essential parts of the story right.
Curt (c.mcnamara@ieee.org)


Posted by: Curt McNamara on 3 Nov 07

MCAD offers on-line classes in the basics of sustainability, systems thinking, and innovation. These are part of a curriculum oriented towards package, graphics, or product design but may be profitably be take by most everyone. Spring courses will be up in a couple of weeks.
Curt
http://online.mcad.edu


Posted by: Curt McNamara on 3 Nov 07

My son, who has a strong interest in sustainability engineering, chose Rensselaer (http://rpi.edu), which has a program in their Humanities department called Design, Innovation, and Society. Most students double-major with Mech Engineering, but that is not required. The professore in the DIS program are strongly oriented toward "re-designing" society with sustainability in mind (though they admitted that some students in the program are thinking more about simply designing within the forms we now have). One of the best parts of the DIS program is that it's based design studios in almost every semester, it had an "inventors program" feel to it. Might be one of the more viable undergrad options for those who will end up doing grad work in forward-looking engineering.


Posted by: Jim Cummings on 5 Nov 07

Having also gone to Stanford, I would disagree with the recommendation for it above. It has some great courses in civil & environmental engineering (building-related green egrg), but has jack for green product design. (I'm trying to change this, as I'm now a lecturer in the design division.)

I'd recommend TU Delft in the Netherlands. They offer a Ph.D. in sustainable design, and the one time I was out there (years ago) they seemed to be doing solid stuff.

I've heard California College of the Arts, in San Francisco, has (or at least had) some great green courses, but I don't know first-hand.


Posted by: Jeremy Faludi on 6 Nov 07

Having also gone to Stanford, I would disagree with the recommendation for it above. It has some great courses in civil & environmental engineering (building-related green egrg), but has jack for green product design. (I'm trying to change this, as I'm now a lecturer in the design division.)

I'd recommend TU Delft in the Netherlands. They offer a Ph.D. in sustainable design, and the one time I was out there (years ago) they seemed to be doing solid stuff.

I've heard California College of the Arts, in San Francisco, has (or at least had) some great green courses, but I don't know first-hand.

I would also second Curt's recommendation for MCAD, above.


Posted by: Jeremy Faludi on 6 Nov 07

I can second Jeremy's plug for the Netherlands. I'm currently following a masters program in Energy Science at the University of Utrecht. The program is fairly small, but has a more technical focus than the related Sustainable Development program. I like the fact that the faculty of both programs have strong ties to both Dutch and EU gov't agencies, and a number of my lecturers from this term work regularly with policy makers.


Posted by: Michael Payne on 6 Nov 07

As a Graduate student at Herron School of Art and Design (Indianapolis, Indiana) I think it's an exciting challenge to realize that the form-making skills we employ as designers are going to be supplemental to the thinking that we do -- designers need a new skills set to deal with wicked problems, and to master a collaborative process for leading innovation -- the skills we are learning in the Masters program at Herron (which are weaved throughout the undergrad program as well) deal with mastering the creative problem solving process when working with complex systems -- especially those at social and cultural levels -- through cross-discipline, collaborative work. We are learning how to identify problems and opportunities within these complex systems, while embracing ambiguity and constant change. Sustainability issues and concepts such as whole-systems and whole-of-life thinking, people-centered and service design, and the RED Design Council's 'transformation design' are just a few of the concepts that are inherent in our curriculum. Though not specifically geared towards engineers, we encourage people from all disciplines to join our graduate studies "do-tank."


Posted by: Pamela Napier on 6 Nov 07

As a Graduate student at Herron School of Art and Design (Indianapolis, Indiana) I think it's an exciting challenge to realize that the form-making skills we employ as designers are going to be supplemental to the thinking that we do -- designers need a new skills set to deal with wicked problems, and to master a collaborative process for leading innovation -- the skills we are learning in the Masters program at Herron (which are weaved throughout the undergrad program as well) deal with mastering the creative problem solving process when working with complex systems -- especially those at social and cultural levels -- through cross-discipline, collaborative work. We are learning how to identify problems and opportunities within these complex systems, while embracing ambiguity and constant change. Sustainability issues and concepts such as whole-systems and whole-of-life thinking, people-centered and service design, and the RED Design Council's 'transformation design' are just a few of the concepts that are inherent in our curriculum. Though not specifically geared towards engineers, we encourage people from all disciplines to join our graduate studies "do-tank."


Posted by: Pamela Napier on 6 Nov 07

I'm currently a part-time, external student in a Master of Science in Renewable Energy at Murdoch University (murdoch.edu.au), Perth, Western Australia.

They also offer other GradCert and GradDip in Energy Studies, as well as a BAppSc in Sustainable Energy Management.

Being an external student (I'm in Brisbane) proves trying at times, and I miss out on the workshops/practicals held at the Research Institute for Sustainable Energy (www.rise.org.au) at Murdoch's campus. That's no fault of the university though, but rather my geographic location. In saying this, however, Murdoch are really on the ball with respect to attending to external students, and ensuring deadlines, notes, tutes, materials are available upfront.

RMIT (rmit.edu.au) offer a Master of Sustainable Energy and University of Melbourne offer a Master of Energy Studies; both in Melbourne, Victoria. Both also offer similar at GradCert and GradDip level.

Finally, as alumni (BEngMech) I should plug QUT (qut.edu.au) and their Institute for Sustainable Resources (isr.qut.edu.au), but its pure PhD research-based. Theire areas are interdisciplinary covering climate change, energy, bio- and ecological systems, sustainability financing, environmental law; the Institute being a collaboration of the Faculties of Built Environment & Engineering, Business & Law, Science and any number of schools (i.e. School of Engineering Systems, School of Design, School of Economics and Finance) contained within said faculties.


Posted by: Bond on 7 Nov 07



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