Western launches new degree in energy policy and management

After years of preparation and only offering a minor in the subject, Western Washington University’s Institute for Energy Studies is now offering its first full degree program.

The Energy Policy and Management major is an interdisciplinary approach to the subject that includes a broad array of topics that will give students a skill set to succeed in the field, and allows for a focus in energy finance, marketing or entrepreneurship.

For two years before the major was created, Western had an energy policy minor that graduated approximately 15 students each year. Its creation has been the aspiration of the department since its creation, but things couldn't get off the ground until thee department was able to hire more faculty members.

"[The major] is meant to be broad and cover the diverse array of energy topics," said Joel Swisher, director of Western's Institute for Energy Studies. "But it’s also meant to give you a skill set that when you are looking for jobs or are thinking about starting a business, you actually know in detail what you are talking about and can hit the ground running."

The major covers subjects on the complex system of energy from production of raw resources, including oil or gas or renewable sources, the process of converting those resources to energy carriers like fuel or electricity, the process of delivering those energy carriers to their users and the technology with which energy is used.

To understand that comprehensive system and figure out where interventions of technology policy or business models can provide for better performance, students need to understand the whole system and have developed a set of analytic skills to know whether the issues are on the technical or business side, Swisher said.

Swisher said he hopes the major attracts students who have an interest in math, science, business or policy and have a passion for problem solving, and want to help change the state of climate change and other environmental issues.

The major is responding to a real set of problems in the world, as well as a displayed interest from Western’s students, he said.

“This is a way to not just be against something, but be for something positive,” Swisher said.