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Retaining Students Interested In Energy In Environmental Engineering

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Understanding Students: Recruiting, Retention, Enrichment

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1030.1 - 14.1030.11



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Paper Authors


Angela Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is the Director of the Environmental Engineering Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder and an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract



Environmental engineers have an important role to play in solving the energy crisis; for example: extracting energy from traditional waste products; supplying and treating water associated with energy production; and conducting life cycle assessments to determine the overall best sources of energy considering the breadth of environmental impacts. Therefore, it is important to recruit and retain students interested in energy topics in environmental engineering (EVEN). At the University of Colorado at Boulder, other majors including chemical and electrical engineering are strongly recruiting students interested in energy. Our EVEN program approved a specialization option in energy in 2007/2008, and began advertising this on our website and in our recruiting brochure. In recent years the percentage of students in a first-year EVEN course who are primarily interested in energy issues has increased significantly. In the first assignment in fall 2006, 2007, and 2008 the percentage of students stating a primary interest in energy was 0%, 26%, and 35%, respectively. The first year course includes assignments and lectures to help students understand the role of energy in EVEN. In 2007 and 2008 there was a guest lecture on sustainable energy. In 2006 to 2008 the students completed a team project on solid waste management where they evaluated the methane generation potential from a landfill using the US EPA LandGEM software. In 2008 the students compared the energy yield from solid waste incineration to the energy that could be captured from the landfill methane. In 2008 the students individually considered the energy consumed in the lifecycle of tap water or bottled water, including extraction, treatment, and distribution. One of our professional guest speakers in 2008 worked in the energy sector, employed by the US EPA to review the Environmental Impact Statements for oil and gas extraction activities. Retention of the students with an energy interest from the fall 2007 class was poor: one year later only 50% of the students are still majoring in EVEN compared to 81% retention of students with a stated interest in other EVEN topics. The expanded emphasis on energy in the 2008 class appeared to do a better job retaining the EVEN students interested in energy, at least in the short term. Based on end-of-the semester essays, 93% of the EVEN students with an interest in energy stated an intent to continue majoring in EVEN, which is similar to the 91% retention of all EVEN majors with various interest areas. These are encouraging results to date. However, the course was not very successful at recruiting the students with an interest in energy into potentially changing their major into EVEN. Longer term data will be needed to verify or refute these initial trends. Student essays point to the importance of guest speakers working in the energy sector as a key reason for the enhanced student perception of the fit of energy within the EVEN profession.


There is widespread acknowledgment that economically developing energy sources without damaging the environment is an urgent need. Two of the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE’s) Grand Challenges for Engineering are explicitly related to energy, and were ranked as the most important based on a web-poll. 1,2 In a 2008 national poll of voters, the energy crisis

Bielefeldt, A. (2009, June), Retaining Students Interested In Energy In Environmental Engineering Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4922

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