Volume XII / 2023
The University of Texas at Arlington | College of Engineering
Graphic of sparks

A New Era in Energy

With a transformational gift and expertise from industry leaders, the College of Engineering launched the nation's first resource and energy engineering degree program.

For decades, Texas has been a leader in energy production and consumption. The oil and gas industry is practically synonymous with the state, and other energy sources have grown rapidly as well.

According to the state comptroller, Texas in 2021 produced more energy than any other state in the country, about 12% of the United States' total net energy generation. It is the largest producer of oil, natural gas, and wind-powered electricity in the nation. The latter is just the beginning for renewable sources, as solar, biofuel, and wave energy are also growing; overall, such sources are expected to quadruple by 2025.

With so many options for energy, Texas is seeing a growing demand for engineers who understand the entire energy industry, including how all the energy sources can be used in combination in an economical and sustainable manner.

To meet this demand, the College of Engineering launched the nation's first resource and energy engineering (REE) bachelor's degree program to prepare students to apply engineering principles to the design, development, and operational evaluation of energy generation, storage, conversion, and distribution systems. Students work with both renewable and conventional sources and by graduation should be ready for graduate study or for immediate employment as energy, design, field, plant, and utility engineers; energy auditors; renewable energy system integrators for homes and businesses; government renewable energy planners; and more. They will also possess a strong background in engineering fundamentals that will help them work well with other technical professionals in energy and related industries.

An REE Milestone

Paul Componation, associate dean for graduate and interdisciplinary affairs, said the addition of the REE program came about because industry leaders asked for help in preparing engineers who have an overall "systems" view of the energy industry. They are especially looking for people who understand conventional and renewable energy and how to produce, store, and distribute it in an economical and environmentally sound manner.

"With the REE program, we expect to be able to support the energy industry workforce with a particular emphasis on Texas, since that's where most energy—traditional and renewable—is produced and used," says Dr. Componation. "Long term, we plan to expand our graduate and research programs to have a greater focus on energy and resources so Texas can continue to be a leader in the industry."

The UTA program allows students to add a degree of specialization in areas such as sustainability, nuclear, solar, and energy governance. It also offers courses in government and economics so graduates will understand how both technical and societal factors influence and are influenced by the energy industry.

A truly multidisciplinary degree, the program is housed in the Electrical Engineering Department and includes courses in electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering, with technical electives in a range of engineering and science fields that will allow students to customize their program.

Preparing Workforce-Ready Graduates

In addition to addressing a vital workforce need, the REE program will ensure that graduates will be able to work in both the engineering and business sides of industry.

"Students in the REE program need to be interested in the big picture. They need to understand the whole energy system and the broader energy economy," says Kendra Wallis, REE program director. "They may have a deeper understanding of a particular sector, but to meet future industry needs, they will have to understand sustainability, business, and how government policy affects various energy sectors. The breadth of the knowledge they get here will ensure that they understand everything that impacts the energy industry, not just resources."

As the college explored the creation of the REE program, it called on industry leaders and other experts to determine what types of skills and knowledge would best suit their needs for future employees.

"We heard that companies had many engineers who were focused on a particular domain, such as oil, and because of that, it was a challenge to work in new areas," Dr. Wallis explains. "The program will provide instruction to ensure graduates are flexible and able to tackle any situation. That's why our program is unique and why our graduates will be highly sought-after when they enter the workforce."

Associate Professor of Practice Chris Boyer, who spent years working in the energy industry for AES Corporation, sees REE as a way to fill the expanding workforce. Energy engineers end up working with multiple sectors, he says, as electricity can be generated from oil, gas, and renewable resources. This is where UTA's program will make a difference.

"Our REE graduates will fill the growing need to alternate between traditional sources of energy and renewables"

"Throughout history, energy has evolved," Dr. Boyer says. "There are multiple sources of energy, and they go back and forth. How companies put it all together requires a general understanding of technology and a systems approach. Our REE graduates will fill the growing need to alternate between traditional sources of energy and renewables.

"Most companies have roles similar to what our graduates will be trained for, but they have to hire a traditional engineer and train them to understand the full range of energy sources," he continues. "This takes time and money, and companies need people with those skills right away to be competitive. They want to hire engineers who are ready to jump in immediately, and UTA will be there to fill those positions."

A Transformational Gift

One of those industry giants who answered the college's call for expertise when developing the REE program was alumnus Kelcy Warren ('78 BS, Civil Engineering), executive chairman and chairman of the Board of Directors of Energy Transfer LP. The UT System Regent made the largest single philanthropic investment in the University's history: a $12 million gift to help elevate UTA to the forefront of the growing REE field.

Two engineering students inspect a solar panel atop a UTA engineering building.

"This unprecedented gift will accelerate our ability to produce a pipeline of talented engineers who are ready to make an immediate impact in the dynamic energy sector," says Peter Crouch, dean of the College of Engineering.

Funding from Warren's gift will fuel faculty and research excellence in the program while providing students with life-changing opportunities for educational and career success in REE and beyond.

"I am honored to give back to the institution that has played such a pivotal role in advancing my educational and professional journeys," says Warren. "Texas faces a critical need for highly skilled graduates who can manage energy resources, and this innovative REE program will help meet that demand."

The gift will:

  • Create the Kelcy Warren Endowed Professorship in Resource and Energy Engineering to recruit and retain a world-class faculty member to lead the program
  • Create two Kelcy Warren Endowed Faculty Fellowships to recruit and retain distinguished scholars
  • Support state-of-the-art REE laboratory space and equipment that will provide faculty and students with the best possible resources to explore solutions to today's most pressing energy challenges
  • Create the Kelcy Warren Career Experience Center to provide opportunities for engineering undergraduates to engage in experiential learning, including internships and co-ops
  • Provide scholarship support for REE undergraduate students—to be named Warren Scholars
  • Provide fellowship support for engineering graduate students—to be named Warren Fellows—interested in energy industry careers upon graduation
  • Support research experiences for engineering undergraduates to prepare them for success in the energy industry and other high-demand fields

"We are deeply grateful for Regent Warren's bold philanthropic vision that promises to forever change the landscape of UTA and leave a lasting legacy at his alma mater," UTA President Jennifer Cowley says. "A gift of this magnitude will provide transformational support for REE and establish UTA as a national leader in this increasingly important industry."

As the demand for all types of energy continues to grow in Texas and elsewhere, the demand for professionals who understand the nuances of business and engineering will, too. With the REE program, UTA is proactively answering this call and will continue to be a leader in building the Texas workforce for the future.