February is Black History Month, and the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) acknowledges the racial inequities that continue to plague the nation, including within our energy systems and research. To increase equity in the energy space, DOE is increasing engagement and partnering with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs).
HBCUs are accredited higher-education institutions established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to educate African American students. The first HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio in the 1800s, before the American Civil War, to educate college-age Black students who were prohibited from attending established colleges and universities due to racial discrimination. There are 101 HBCUs as of 2020.
Diversity in STEM and Support for HBCUs and MSIs
DOE supports science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and energy literacy, and works to ensure that underrepresented and underserved students have equal learning and career opportunities. Over the past year, DOE has increased recruiting for clean energy jobs at national minority-based recruiting events, including conferences for Black Engineer of the Year and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science, with plans to attend more in 2023.
DOE has also created partnerships with HBCUs and MSIs to provide opportunities for funding, experiential learning, training, and research grants.
- In February 2022, DOE announced plans to provide $1.5 million for new grants to colleges and universities that are underrepresented in DOE's investments to foster development of climate, Earth, and environmental science research and training capacity.
- In April 2022, DOE released its first-ever inaugural Equity Action Plan and committed up to $102 million for HBCUs and other MSIs as foundations for world-class talent in STEM.
- In December 2022, DOE announced $32 million in research opportunities to support historically underrepresented groups in STEM through internships, training programs, and mentor opportunities at five HBCUs and 32 other MSIs and research institutions.
EERE and HBCU Engagement
EERE’s technology offices are working to increase HBCU participation in research and development. Recent actions include:
- In December 2022, the Bioenergy Technologies Office awarded $1.38 million to four MSIs, including two HBCUs, for projects focusing on algal systems, terrestrial waste feedstock technologies, and catalyst development for biofuel production.
- In November 2022, the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) awarded $3 million to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, an HBCU, to develop a modular solar-plus-storage energy system to increase community resilience.
- In 2021, SETO and the STEM Research and Development Consortium (MSRDC) created the Science and Technology Research Partnership to promote innovation from MSIs in solar energy research and development for underrepresented groups. Eight solar research projects at seven MSIs—including two HBCUs—were awarded $3.2 million.
- Last fall, SETO announced Rutgers University was awarded $1.6 million for agrivoltaics research and will partner with Delaware State University, an HBCU, to test different crops underneath and/or in between rows of solar panels, examine community perceptions, and build a network to expand agrivoltaics across the Northeast.
- Five HBCUs and MSIs are competing in the collegiate EcoCAR Electric Vehicle Challenge, in which students engineer novel technologies for battery electric vehicles and prepare to join the workforce.
- DOE awarded $3.6 million to 18 groups and organizations, including one HBCU, through the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, designed to support entrepreneurship and innovation in communities historically underserved in federal climate and energy technology.
- One HBCU is competing in the Marine Energy Collegiate Competition, which challenges students to propose new ideas for marine energy to capture the ocean’s power.
Fellowships, Internships, and More
The Building Technologies Office is participating in the following programs:
- The Graduate Education for Minority Students fellowship program (GEM) recruits underrepresented students pursuing graduate STEM degrees and presents opportunities to enter the industry.
- The Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program (MEISPP) offers undergraduate and graduate students summer internship positions with DOE and its national laboratories, with positions focusing on scientific research, policy, business, and government relations.
- The Residential and Commercial Buildings Integration teams partner with the MSRDC to expand its network of potential partners and increase the participation and representation of HBCUs and other MSIs in the building ecosystem.
Both SETO and The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) participate in GEM and MEISPP. HFTO also participates in the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through HBCUs, which aims to help eliminate barriers HBCUs face in providing the highest-quality education to a growing number of students.
DOE will continue to work on bridging the gap in the clean energy space to increase opportunities for and engagement with HBCUs and MSIs.