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Energy Team to Serve Growing Regional Energy Industry

Faculty experts at IUP have begun to explore opportunities to serve the growing energy industry in Western Pennsylvania through the development of the IUP Energy Team.

The IUP Energy Team is an interdisciplinary faculty team that is undertaking research and formulating new projects that address the various aspects of energy development, including Marcellus shale, conventional natural gas exploration, and renewable energy development (wind and solar power). Capabilities are being developed in water quality monitoring and testing, community and wind energy planning, safety sciences programs, geographic information systems, and environmental impacts.

Initially, development of new service and research capabilities will involve faculty members from the departments of GeoscienceGeography and Regional PlanningChemistrySociologySafety SciencesBiology, and Physics, with more academic departments expected to participate as programs and funding expand. 

“IUP is well-positioned to bring forward new initiatives from our faculty that will enable energy firms, municipalities, community groups, and other organizations to leverage our resources and expertise,” Dr. David WernerIUP interim president, said. “The intellectual capital of our faculty is a tremendous asset, and we believe we can make a measureable contribution in the energy area for the region and state.”

One of IUP’s first energy team projects is a water quality data Web portal that will contain key data from watershed locations around the region. This website is expected to be available in spring 2011.

Several faculty members have also worked together on approaches communities can use to develop strengths in alternative and renewable energies, involve local citizen groups, and promote sustainability.

Faculty experts are in the process of expanding capabilities in the Geoscience curriculum and Safety Sciences to meet industry needs for worker training and education in several new energy-related fields.

“IUP faculty members have expressed a great deal of interest and teamwork in collaborating between academic departments and with external partners to begin to develop new services,” Tracey Missien, interim director of Workforce Education and Economic Development at IUP, said. “IUP is also proud to have joined the Energy Alliance of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where faculty will be able to increase opportunities to collaborate with regional universities and other regional partners. All of these developments will allow us to support the growing energy industry, attract federal and state funding, and expand IUP’s role as a strong regional partner for economic development and growth.”

Missien recognized the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development for its support to IUP through funding from the Keystone Innovation Zone. This has provided funding for graduate and undergraduate student researchers from the Geoscience and Geography and Regional Planning departments to begin work building databases and conducting research on energy-related initiatives during the 2010–2011 academic year.

“A component of the KIZ program was designed to create new opportunities for Pennsylvania’s college students and graduates, specifically by improving and encouraging research and development efforts, technology commercialization, and entrepreneurship,” Byron Stauffer, Jr., executive director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development and KIZ coordinator, said. “With funding provided by the KIZ program, we can leverage the capabilities of the IUP faculty and capture the creativity and enthusiasm of the students to focus on the many opportunities of the energy industry cluster within the commonwealth.”

Currently, faculty members from the departments of Geoscience and Geography and Regional Planning are leading the development of potential projects.

“Faculty are very interested in building capacity that will allow us to partner with energy companies and provide real-world experiences for our students,” Dr. Steve Hovan, University Professor and chair of the Geoscience Department, said.

Geography and Regional Planning chairm Dr. John Benhart agreed.

“A collaborative, interdisciplinary energy research team will allow IUP to become a valuable resource for a myriad of energy-related activities, such as Marcellus exploration, wind and solar site selection and infrastructure, best practice safety regimes, integrated community planning, and analysis of environmental impacts of energy development activities,” Benhart said. “Academic programs at IUP are interested in producing graduates and interns who have the knowledge and skills to be employed and contribute to expanding energy sectors.”

More information is available by contacting Missien at 724-357-4082 or tmissien@iup.edu, or by visiting the Office of Workforce Education and Economic Development website.