The University of Houston is on its way to becoming the nation’s “energy university.” As such, the University has introduced the Energy and Sustainability minor, an exciting new interdisciplinary minor that includes introductory and capstone courses during the duration of the classes. Some of the areas explored are existing, transitional and alternative energy resources; conservation and consumption; and energy and sustainability from the perspectives of economics and business, architecture and design, public policy and education.
One student who discovered the benefits of this approach is Brenda Martinez, a senior Environmental Science major in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The interdisciplinary aspect of the minor was what piqued Martinez’s interest. “What really interested me was getting to know how the science and numbers we were coming up with in NSM were used in other fields like business, policy and economics,” says Martinez. “It’s been an amazing eye-opening experience. I’ve gotten to experience the dynamics of working with other majors and tackling problems we face today in those industries. I’m finally getting to see the big picture of how everything works together.”
The many instructors who teach within the minor are another draw for students like Martinez. “Dr. Pratt,” she says, especially, “has been a great mentor. His passion for both the subject and teaching his students always shows.” Ultimately, after graduation Martinez would like to go into environmental consulting. But for now, she’s working on her capstone course project. She is collaborating with two other students to research carbon capture and storage (CCS) from coal, and whether it could really work in the future of energy.
The group will be looking at the economics, science and politics of CCS and whether it is a viable option for the future, considering both the strengths and limitations it has. “The EPA regulations passed recently are what interested us about this topic. We wanted to research how these would affect the coal industry, which has always been a large source of energy, not only for the US but also for developing countries throughout the world. With the large emissions coal has and the current movement towards a cleaner and more efficient environment and energy industry, we wanted to study how such a fuel would play a part in the sustainable future.”
Martinez sees the worth in studying and preparing for a future of sustainability in the field of energy. “Sustainability allows for further growth and improvement in areas such as planetary resource management, not only for us but for future generations as well. This minor really looks at how everything is interconnected,” she says. “I think that’s why people have become interested in it. We all want to know and understand how others are viewing different aspects of the same topic so we can work toward improving the problem.”