College Launches Major Research and Educational Programs in Sustainable Engineering

With the intense media attention being given to global warming and the runaway cost of oil, it is not surprising that the issue of sustainability is at the top of almost every green agenda in government and industry. On the campus of Villanova University, the 2008-09 academic year has been designated the "Year of Sustainability." According to Dr. Alfonso Ortega, the College of Engineering’s Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research and the James R. Birle Professor of Energy Technology, “Villanova views this issue not as an option but as a mandate.” Recognizing the critical role that engineers play in sustainable development, the College of Engineering is introducing major initiatives in sustainability.

First, the College has developed an interdisciplinary M.S. in Sustainable Engineering, available for enrollment in 2009. Open to engineers from all different fields, this program introduces students to the broader issues of sustainability through a series of core courses and then allows them to pursue one of three specialty tracks: alternative energy, sustainable water management, and sustainable environment. Several other tracks are being developed.

Graduate students may attend classes on campus or through the College's Distance Education Program, a flexible, convenient, and—given the cost of gas—economical option.

On the research front, the College is launching a major Center for Sustainable Engineering at Villanova. The Center will be the locus for research into many facets of sustainability, including environmental science, alternative energy, and sustainable water management. "We think southeastern Pennsylvania has a great need for such a center," Dr. Ortega said. "The College has world-class expertise in many of these research areas, and we are moving aggressively to engage industrial partners to participate or collaborate in the center’s research."

It is hoped that the Center can grow to encompass facets of sustainability outside of engineering, such as economics, ethics, and law. It also will be the focal point for the training of graduate students in this emerging field. "Many of the individual areas, such as alternative energy, have been actively researched," Dr. Ortega noted, "but the rapidly emerging concept of sustainable engineering demands research into the synergies between the manmade world and the natural world. It is a huge and exciting challenge."

Finally, in collaboration with the College of Engineering, the Facilities Management Office, directed by John Cacciola, P.E., LEED, is spearheading an effort to renovate Fedigan Hall and create Villanova’s first “green” dormitory. The College’s students and faculty will contribute to this work by helping to design and implement alternative energy methods and devices, such as photovoltaic collectors for direct solar energy conversion to electricity and solar thermal collectors for supplying hot water needs. Upon completion, the dormitory not only will be a "cool" place to live on campus; it also will be a living laboratory for teaching and learning about sustainability in built environments.

The new master's degree, the Center for Sustainable Engineering, and the creation of Villanova’s first green dormitory are three of the many University-wide sustainability initiatives involving research, education, curricular development, and campus life in the Year of Sustainability at Villanova.

View the Sustainable Engineering Degree Presentation by Dr. Randy Weinstein