Sandina Ponte, a member of the University of Missouri's Industrial Assessment Center, inspects equipment at a manufacturing facility during an energy audit. | Photo courtesy of University of Missouri IAC.

Each year, more than 300 engineering students receive hands-on training in energy efficiency under the leadership of seasoned professional engineers and faculty as part of the Energy Department’s Industrial Assessment Centers (IAC) program. The IACs, located at 24 universities around the country, are serving as the nation’s premier launching pad for a new generation of engineers -- like Sandina Ponte -- who are capable of confronting the energy challenges faced by U.S. manufacturers.

As an undergraduate at the University of Missouri, Ponte knew she wanted to work in the energy efficiency field. After completing her engineering degree, Ponte pursued a graduate degree while working full-time as an industrial engineer at the ABB Group, a power and automation technologies company focused on lowering environmental impact for utilities and industry. When her long-time academic advisor, Dr. Bin Wu, was appointed as center director of the university’s newly established IAC, Ponte was immediately interested in the program. She realized that the IAC could be the perfect place to combine her academic knowledge and research work with hands-on experience in the field.

After going through the rigorous application and interview process, Ponte was one of six undergraduate and graduate students selected for the University of Missouri IAC team. As an IAC student, Ponte performed energy audits for small- and medium-sized manufacturing plants at no cost to the company and identified opportunities for companies to improve productivity, reduce waste and save energy. Her involvement in the IAC allowed Ponte to gain additional technical expertise and vital knowledge in many areas of engineering -- experiences she would not have attained in the classroom -- and helped her see the entire picture of how individual components come together within a manufacturing facility.

Ponte credits the University of Missouri IAC with having a significant impact on her career. Since participating in the IAC, Ponte has received two promotions and is now the Sustainability Controller for Business Unit Transformers, as well as the lead on energy efficiency efforts for the ABB Group.

Ponte’s IAC training taught her to seek out potential energy improvements, and she used this experience to help her company by requesting a comprehensive IAC assessment for one of ABB’s facilities. While presenting the recommendations from the energy audits to her superiors, Ponte successfully argued for their implementation. Ponte recalls that initially, “I wanted to do this in 22 factories. My manager agreed, but only if we expanded the scope to make it a company-wide effort.” Ponte’s energy efficiency initiative is now being rolled out at more than 120 ABB sites around the globe.

Ponte continues to have a working relationship with the University of Missouri IAC. She plans to have current members of the University of Missouri IAC involved with her energy efficiency projects at ABB so that she can assist the next generation of IAC students.