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UT plans Houston energy engineering institute

UT plans Houston energy engineering institute

Jordan Blum-Reporter-Houston Business Journal

The University of Texas is expanding in Houston in a big way with plans for a new energy engineering institute.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents is expected on Aug. 21 to approve $2 million in "seed money" to jumpstart the planned UT System Engineering, Research, and Education Institute in Houston.

The goal of the project is to substantially increase UT's Houston presence, graduate a lot more engineering students and help address the so-called "crew change" of retiring energy employees from the Baby Boomer era who need to be replaced, saidCharles R. Helms, UT electrical engineering professor and chairman of the Task Force on Engineering Education for Texas in the 21st Century.

"A big focus is going to be on the energy area," Helms said, and so many of the top companies are in Houston. "We want to put industry and academia shoulder to shoulder.

"Houston is the perfect place for this. All the companies are there," he added. "And we don't have much presence there."

UT is currently looking at potential locations to lease in Houston, Helms said, with the goal of opening in mid-2015 and growing from there. He foresees an operating budget of $100 million a year for the Houston institute within five years when also factoring in corporate investments and federal grants and contracts.

"It could be fairly sizable," he said. "We want to look at this with a sense of urgency and really get going."

The UT task force estimates that the state of Texas needs 88,000 new engineers and computer scientists during the next 10 years. The UT System is currently graduating about 3,000 of them a year and must increase that number to 5,000 annually. Helms would like to see even more.

"We're nowhere near generating that number of bachelor's degrees," he said. "We need to double our graduations. That's a huge challenge."

The Houston institute is a key step. The goal is for half of the institute's employees to be UT faculty and staff, with the other half coming from industry engineers and more who are permanently located at the institute, Helms said. Students would take classes there and do internships during summer sessions or for a semester or two at a time, he said.

The institute will be multidisciplinary and incorporate other fields of study like earth science, geology, material sciences, mechanical engineering and more, he said.

"This can be a new model on how people focus on energy research and development," he said.

Helms was tasked with leading the project in part because of his background. He is a "retired" professor emeritus with Stanford University who worked as an Exxon research physicist before entering academia. He moved to Texas as a Texas Instruments director and then served as president and CEO of International SEMATECH — short for semiconductor manufacturing technology — before joining UT as an engineering dean.

 

Last Updated ( Monday, 25 August 2014 17:33 )

 

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