Turning on Renewable Energy

By Jamie Smith
Friday, July 1, 2011

JBU Students Interested in New Major

Sophomore Amanda Reed is charged up about JBU’s renewable energy program. When she started her freshman year, she was not unlike many students who haven’t quite figured out their life plan. So, she prayed for direction, and the answer came in the form of a newspaper article announcing a new major. “I saw a headline that said we were going to have something for renewable energy,” she says. “I hadn’t heard much about renewable energy — but it sounded interesting.”

Reed took one class with instructor Fernando Vega, renewable energy program director, and was hooked. She now plans to double major in business administration and renewable energy. Reed joins a growing number of JBU students in the renewable energy program, launched as a pilot program in the 2009–2010 school year. The program focuses on wind, solar and biomass (using organic matter to generate energy) renewable energy systems.

GETTING PLUGGED IN

Dr. Cal Piston, natural science division chair, said the program proposal was generated after the Office for Academic Affairs sent out a request for new ideas that were innovative and fit JBU’s mission. Renewable energy was a perfect fit, plugging right into both criteria. When approved in 2008, the renewable energy program was one of the first full-fledged degree programs of its kind in the United States. Most other colleges offering similar programs were engineering schools and none of them were Christian schools. That didn’t daunt the program backers, however— they knew that providing a program where JBU students could learn conservation of God’s creation, as well as gain knowledge in a career field becoming more relevant every day, could succeed. “Ten to 15 years ago, these ideas were not mainstream — but now it’s a mainstream idea,” Piston says.

Vega agreed that now is the time for JBU to start the program because political, financial and environmental changes in American society are bringing the idea of renewable energy into the forefront. “It’s a timely initiative,” he says. “Energy is an important part of any business. We first need to learn how to avoid energy, waste then start learning how to use renewable energy.”

Vega, tapped to spearhead the renewable energy program, had the perfect background for the task. He graduated from JBU in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering; he earned a master’s of finance in Honduras ten years later, and then in 2003 he graduated with a master’s in renewable energies from a university in Germany. Europe is well ahead of the United States in developing and using renewable energy, Vega explains. When he was asked to head up the new renewable energy program, Vega was serving as the head of the college’s Institute for Biblical Community Development, which trains missionaries and local Christian leaders in “holistic community development,” including some concepts found in renewable energy, Vega says.

A PROGRAM OVERVIEW

The renewable energy program to provides students with a bachelor’s of science in renewable energy. Students are required to choose one of three emphasis areas: design, international development or management. Students in the major have a core number of about half a dozen classes, then they take courses that develop their respective emphasis areas, Piston explains. The design emphasis has a math and engineering focus. Students are trained to design and integrate the systems used to create renewable energy.

The management emphasis is essentially business courses combined with renewable energy. These students may go into sales, marketing or management — areas of the business that involve renewable energy beyond the technical aspects, Vega says. The international development emphasis combines renewable energy courses with courses in intercultural studies. Students interested in international development may want to help impoverished communities develop safer water or find energy sources that won’t harm their communities.

Vega recognizes that many organizations around the world are attempting to perform similar community development functions, but JBU has an even stronger calling in this area because of its Christian foundation.

“Many come to JBU because they are missionary kids or they are interested in international development and they want to go into that field,” Vega says. “When we conduct international development, we don’t do it in a secular way. We do it with Christian intention.”

FITTING THE MISSION

When any student attends JBU, they receive an education rich with academic, spiritual and practical application —Head, Heart, Hand. The new renewable energy program matches the threefold motto. “Renewable energy fits our spiritual mission, starting with Genesis 1, when we are given dominion over the earth,” Piston says. “The Bible says the earth is yours to take care of, not yours to exploit. “But beyond that, there’s lots of hands-on work and there’s lots of science behind it. And we are teaching students to use renewable energy to help people.”

Reed, the sophomore double majoring in renewable energy and business administration, agrees. “Renewable energy helps people improve their lives,” she says. Brian Morsman, a senior renewable energy major, says the program fits JBU perfectly.

“Renewable energy allows people o get the energy they need to survive and to improve their lives,” he says.“But in that process renewableenergy is not doing as much damage as conventional forms of energy production. We have a biblical responsibility to be stewards and not consumers of creation. “A lot of what JBU does is about ministry and about multiculturalism. People in those programs learn a lot about missions and they learn a lot about the disadvantaged,” he says. “Renewable energy provides us with a real way to allow those people who aren’t specifically missionaries to alleviate the stresses on [the disadvantaged]. “If we don’t do something about the poor, we become what is described in 1 Cor. 13, where they talk about how you can speak with the tongues of angels but if you don’t have love, you’re just a clanging cymbal.”

CHANGE COMING

Even as it goes into its second year, the renewable energy program is already growing, transforming and innovating. Vega says he wants to establish more labs with the necessary equipment, including labs for solar/thermal energy, solar/electric energy, meteorology, a wind lab and a biomass/biofuels lab.

A major administration change will come next school year when the program changes homes. The program originated in the natural sciences division, but will be moved to the engineering and construction management division. Most of the changes are administrative in nature, but the change will allow for more degree options.

Dr. Larry Bland, chair of the engineering and construction management division, explains that there will continue to be a bachelor’s of science in renewable energy with the three emphasis options.

They will be joined by a bachelor’s of science in engineering with a renewable energy concentration. Bland says the program is not being redesigned, rather it’s simply being put under a more appropriate curriculum umbrella.

He says as the renewable energy program powers up, the primary focus will be student growth, program awareness efforts, and seeking grants for program enhancements. “Energy touches nearly every area of human life,” said Bland. “With the eventual supply limits of fossil fuels creating an almost certain energy crisis at some point in the future, JBU renewable energy hopes to be at the forefront of engineering new solutions that will provide clean, sustainable power or future generations.”