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Energy & Sustainability Minor Prepares Students to be Industry Leaders

07/19/2017 | By Claire Andersen

The Energy and Sustainability minor at the University of Houston is preparing the upcoming workforce by expanding its knowledge and understanding of the diversity. The minor was founded as a multidisciplinary academic track to ensure that students understand the concepts and applications of energy and sustainability from both technical and nontechnical perspectives. 

The minor attracts students from a wide range of interests and majors, from architecture and engineering to political science and journalism. The courses included in the minor encompass a wide range of disciplines to encourage students to select courses that will expand their understanding of energy and sustainability issues. 

“The idea is to encourage students and in a way push them out of their comfort zone and explore the interdisciplinary nature of the minor,” said the minor’s advisor, Rita Sirrieth. “It’s about gaining that deeper understanding, and by broadening your thinking, you are more marketable to whatever industry you’re trying to get into in energy and sustainability.”

Founded in 2012 by now retired historian Joe Pratt, the minor is housed within the Honors College and directed by assistant professor Terry Hallmark. Hallmark worked in political risk assessment in the oil and gas industry for three decades before coming to UH to teach political science and philosophy. Alongside Sirrieth, Hallmark is working to focus the curriculum and establish the minor as a tool to help students become more marketable in the energy industry. 

“The idea all along has been to help students when they go out to look for jobs,” said Hallmark. “If they lean towards the energy side of the minor, it’s likely to be at an oil and gas or petrochemical company. If they lean more towards the sustainability side that also works because so much of what’s being built these days is green.”

The program features a curriculum constructed around two courses . Outside the classroom students also have the opportunity to see and experience the industry first hand on tours of work sites around Houston. 

“Getting out in the community and seeing what oil and gas looks like in real life, it’s very different from learning the structures of a chemical plant from a textbook,” said Sirrieth. 

This firsthand experience is part of the minor’s goal to prepare students for a successful future in the industry. Hallmark and Sirrieth both hope that the program will continue to expand and that growing connections with industry leaders will attract a wide range of students. 

“The idea is to establish pipelines to firms so they know that we are here and to come looking (for workers). All in all we’re pretty happy with where we are, but we know we have a lot of work to do,” Hallmark said.