Patrick Eagan, PhD
Patrick Eagan, PhD, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Department of Engineering Professional Development (EPD), Office of Sustainability, and the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, likes to look at sustainability as an opportunity for engineers to become leaders in green development.
Today sustainability is no longer just a concept but a global imperative. “For engineers, it’s a topic that needs to be explored and a competency that should add value to their career,” says Eagan. “Companies and other institutions seek engineers competent in sustainability practices.” As human impact on the earth increases, changes must be made to keep the planet healthy.
In order to address demand, Eagan worked with a talented group of individuals to create UW–Madison’s new online Masters of Engineering in Sustainable Systems Engineering (SSE) degree, geared toward practicing engineers. The program prepares students to understand and inspire change within their organization relating to complex systems and their impact on the quality of water, land, air, energy, economics, and society. SSE is currently accepting applications through October 15, 2012 for the semester beginning January 2013.
The new online degree combines expertise in distance technology delivery to graduate students and UW-Madison’s expertise in the emerging area of sustainability. “EPD has been looking for some way to meet the needs of engineers and other professionals working on sustainability and making it actionable for more than seven years,” says Eagan. “Our research indicated that there was a need and that we could meet that need.” The degree requires 27 credits, consisting of required courses, approved electives and a capstone project. “UW-Madison has a lot of talent in sustainability,” Eagan says, “As well as an established program with a great track record.”
The University’s online graduate engineering programs are ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report.
Eagan also helped design two online courses based on sustainable engineering that are part of the SSE curriculum, with the intention of teaching engineers the skill sets they need in order to obtain the job they desire. The first course: Core Competencies of Sustainability, introduces students to sustainable design and development. Over the semester, students experience a range of sustainability dimensions and explore sustainability by engaging in reflective thinking. They also look at the professional and personal competency needed to deal with that particular week’s topic.
The second course: Sustainability Tools and Contexts, explores sustainability from both an industrial, as well as a public sector standpoint. Students learn how to utilize various eco-design tools, and how to evaluate output after these tools are in use. Each week the students use a different tool (such as the Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment) that they apply to a variety of situations. Speakers with hands-on experience using these tools in their careers are also brought in to show students how these tools will affect their careers and be used in real life.
“By reflecting and engaging in activity-based learning, the students are able to explore sustainability in terms of how it will apply to their lives and their interests,” Eagan says.
Both courses have been largely successful but the courses are constantly evaluated courses, leading to continuous change and improvement.
“We are always looking for ways to improve the learning environment for our students,” Eagan says.