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A Survey of the State of the Power Engineering Profession in the Pacific Northwest and what Working Professionals are Defining as Priorities for Preparing Students to Fill Present and Near-Future Vacancies

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Electromagnetics & Power Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Donald M. Peter P.E. Seattle Pacific University

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Don has taught electrical engineering at Seattle Pacific University since 1987, specializing in analog and power electronics, Before that he worked as a design/evaluation/diagnostics engineer at Tektronx, Inc. for eleven years. He has been involved in various consulting projects, including two summers as a NASA Summer Faculty Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laborary in Pasadena, CA. He has a B.S. in Physics from Seattle Pacfic University and an MSEE from the University of Washington. Don is an IEEE senior member and member of the ASEE.

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A Survey of the State of the Power Engineering Profession in the Pacific Northwest and What Working Professionals are Defining as Priorities for Preparing Students to Fill Present and Near-Future Vacancies

What is the state of the power engineering profession today and what advice can working professionals give to academia on what is important for an introductory course? These two fundamental questions were asked of 73 power professionals representing 42 electric power entities throughout the United States Pacific Northwest via an online survey during the summer of 2015. Covered were the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska, as well as Western Montana and Northern California. For years there have been reports on the growing need for young engineers to step into large numbers of expected job vacancies due to retirement. Paralleling that concern has been that of the availability of quality power programs. The general perception is that few universities offer strong power curricula despite efforts in this area, although some good progress has been made. Indicative of these challenges has been the expansion of special scholarships for students willing to target power engineering as their field of choice (like that offered through the IEEE Power Engineering Society), and the hiring of graduates with little formal power education but who are perceived as capable of being trained. The author of this paper, who is an electrical engineering professor, has seen a significant number his graduates enter the power industry to essentially ‘learn on the job.’ Subsequently there is a motive to learn firsthand the state of the profession in the Pacific Northwest in terms of demographics and also to get valuable current feedback from those in the field about topics they recommend as most important to cover in an introductory course. The author is in the process of developing such a course to complete a triad of power related courses offered as technical electives: Power Systems, Power Electronics, and Power Engineering. The survey reveals interesting results. For example 86% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they had concerns about being able to fill coming job vacancies. Fifteen percent of those sampled reported being within five or fewer years of retirement, with 27% within 10 or fewer years. On the course content question, respondents were asked to prioritize subtopics in order of importance. Power transmission was selected as first or second priority 82% of the time and power distribution was selected first or second 74% of the time. Power generation dominated the ‘other’ category as it was not explicitly offered in the survey, and in hindsight should have been. Answers to open-ended questions provide a wealth of valuable advice for academicians to heed when introducing students to power, ranging from the actual process of substation design to the admonition to ‘make it fun!’

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