As with any major change, the shift from military to civilian life can be challenging. Those who have served for years may miss the structure of day-to-day military life, and it can be difficult to determine what civilian career prospects are best for the skills acquired during military service. Now, for service members interested in a career in the energy sector, there’s a new online course that helps veterans develop engineering design skills in the context of solving our nation’s energy problems.
Building on the University of Maryland’s Designing a Sustainable World course -- a class based on the Energy Department’s Energy 101 framework to provide undergraduates with an introduction to the fundamentals of energy -- the university teamed up with the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense’s Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative to create a similar course for veterans and transitioning service members. Maryland’s new online course, Designing Quantitative Solutions for Energy, pairs video lessons with virtual laboratories. The course encourages students to think critically and address complex energy challenges using core mathematical concepts -- including logarithms, derivatives and integrals -- used in the engineering fields. Students also receive mentorship opportunities to help them through both project work and energy career planning.
The course centers on an individual design project in which students must identify a real-world energy problem and propose creative solutions. One veteran, Shelia Scott Neumann, a licensed professional engineer who served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, drew from her prior academic research in environmental studies to develop a plan for using sodium sulfur storage batteries to increase the self-sufficiency of a local water treatment plant in Washington, D.C.
Students were taught to use a step-by-step design approach through the course, which includes generating and ranking multiple solutions, justifying the selected solution, developing and testing a model, and analyzing resultant data. For Neumann, it helped her systematically look at different aspects as she went through that process. “At the end, I felt like I had a viable solution,” she said.
For some students, the lessons learned in the class helped them change their own energy habits and understand the different energy sources available across the country. For example, while researching photovoltaic technology for her design project, U.S. Navy Commander Tabitha Pierzchala, a certified energy manager, discovered another potential improvement to her home in Washington State in addition to installing solar panels: replacing the propane water heating source with an electric option to save energy and money.
The course is designed to help service members move forward both academically and professionally. For Pierzchala, the pace of the coursework helped her focus on advancing her upcoming energy career, while fulfilling her continued active-duty military role. The course also satisfied continuing education credits she needed for renewing her professional certifications.
So far, 36 current and former service members have participated in the pilot course at Maryland, which is paving the way for a bright future for both veterans and the clean energy economy. Learn more about how the Energy Department supports veterans through workforce programs and employment resources.