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Engineering Professional Development


James Tinjum and Mitchell Bradt

Assistant Faculty Associate Mitch Bradt (left) and Assistant Professor James Tinjum. (large image)

Wind courses fuel green economy

Like giant flowers with sleek, breeze-ruffled petals, wind turbines have multiplied in recent years on landscapes across the country. U.S. government leaders are committed to continuing that growth, pledging some $3 billion in July 2009 for renewable-energy projects they hope will stimulate the economy and double alternative-energy production by 2012.

Wind power will play a major role in this expansion, and with its newly announced suite of wind-energy courses for engineers, utility employees, contractors and technicians, UW-Madison is poised to train the people who will design, site, build and maintain wind farms. “They’re out there, they’re practicing, they’re shifting from other areas in engineering and construction into this — and they need the training,” says Assistant Professor James Tinjum.

James Tinjum and Mitchell Bradt

With startup funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the new courses build on a successful existing offering that largely covers electrical engineering aspects of wind energy. Assistant Faculty Associate Mitch Bradt leads the course Fundamentals of Wind Power Plant Design, which culminates with a tour of a Wisconsin wind farm.

He and Tinjum will develop and program the new courses. The first, scheduled for November 2009, will cover civil engineering aspects of wind energy project design and construction. Featuring 16 national experts in areas ranging from engineering and construction to law and government policy, the course will tackle wind energy from a broad range of perspectives.

Designed for industry professionals, a second course will teach attendees how to evaluate and plan wind energy sites, while a third — delivered via webinar — will address wind farm and wind turbine operations and maintenance.

In addition, Tinjum and Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor James Schneider will develop and teach a three-credit, semester-long design course for undergraduate and graduate students. The class capitalizes on Schneider’s expertise in foundations and Tinjum’s experience in civil design and will include guest lecturers discussing wind energy project design, construction and operation.

Overall, the offerings highlight a growing area of expertise in wind energy at UW-Madison. Several electrical and computer engineering faculty also actively pursue wind-related research and, in April 2009, entered into a long-term research, development and educational partnership with leading wind-power technology company Vestas. “We are good at addressing the multidisciplinary aspects of wind energy,” says Tinjum. “We cover all the bases.”

Assessment will help international company train the ‘ideal’ energy engineer

Founded nearly 125 years ago and headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Johnson Controls Inc. is a global leader in automotive interior systems, building efficiency, and power solutions. Also a global leader in energy efficiency and sustainability, the company has an aggressive growth strategy that calls for scores of specially trained energy engineers. Yet, demand for these project development engineers far outpaces the current and projected supply, says Suzanne Sherry, director for learning and development for the Johnson Controls North America Building Efficiency business. “Compounding the shortage of engineers is the dynamic state of engineering,” she says. “Rapidly changing technologies, new methods and emerging discoveries require frequent ‘retooling’ of the workforce.”

With the company’s professional education needs in mind, Sherry and her team collaborated with Faculty Associate Tom Smith and Associate Faculty Associate Carl Vieth on a study that could increase Johnson Controls’ understanding of the “ideal” energy engineer’s core knowledge, behaviors and skills.

Smith and Vieth conducted a needs assessment and identified eight key performance attributes: personal effectiveness, academic preparation, technical knowledge, business acumen, leadership, innovation, managing change, and ability to work globally. “What we’re providing is an independently validated model that Johnson Controls can use to determine training needs,” says Vieth, who is EPD director of corporate education.

The assessment results will provide Johnson Controls with a baseline of where the entire project development engineer group currently resides in relation to the model UW-Madison has constructed, says Sherry. “Johnson Controls will collaborate with EPD to design and develop a curriculum path to assist the project development engineer organization in achieving its goals,” she says.

Capitalizing on technology:
Multitude of courses engages and educates distance learners

At UW-Madison, a busy practicing engineer can receive the “right” distance education in as little as a couple of hours or as long as a few years, with myriad options between. Building on several successful, internationally recognized distance-degree programs, the department is increasing the number and variety of educational offerings for students in Madison and around the world.

“We’re rapidly using some of our existing platforms and tools and reconfiguring those into a more digitally friendly learning environment,” says Associate Faculty Associate Carl Vieth, director of corporate education. “From what we hear from our customers, that’s going to be much more where we need to be. And it allows us to serve more people.”

For the shortest educational time frame, one-hour webcast courses cover a specific technical topic. Divided into a series of one- or two-hour sessions totaling about 20 hours, short courses at a distance explore a topic in more depth and combine webcast, teleconferencing and videoconferencing technologies with self-directed readings and problem-solving exercises.

Recorded in on-campus classrooms, credit courses at a distance mirror the structure and flow of campus courses such as those in power engineering, polymer engineering or biomedical engineering. Some 250 students annually enroll in credit courses at a distance, which fill a particular educational need or combine into an entire degree program.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2009, the Master of Engineering in Professional Practice distance-degree program has received numerous national and international awards. Nearly 250 students have graduated from this two-year program, which offers a blend of technical and management expertise and prepares them for engineering leadership roles. A 2009 United States Distance Learning Association best practice award recipient, the Master of Engineering in Engine Systems is a three-year applied degree program for early- to mid-career engineers who work in the internal-combustion engine industry. For more than 30 years, students have studied technical Japanese through UW-Madison, and those who enroll in the Master of Engineering in Technical Japanese distance-education program can complete the degree at their own pace, from any location.

Vieth cites these programs’ success as evidence students can complete technically rigorous courses online. He says distance opportunities will continue to play a key role in educating students at all levels. “I think the requirements of the current and future economic environment will necessitate that not only EPD, but the campus, really think about how to engage learners in different ways, using technology,” he says. “We’re in good shape here in EPD, looking forward.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering University of Wisconsin-Madison