Western Carolina University’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology will expand hands-on learning experiences for engineering students and boost efforts to recruit and retain engineering students with a $75,000 gift from the Duke Energy Foundation.
The gift, announced at WCU on Monday, Nov. 17, will fund the purchase of new power systems laboratory equipment and provide student scholarships, faculty development and programming to encourage more students across Western North Carolina to explore engineering as a profession.
Jeffrey L. Ray, dean of the Kimmel School, said WCU is excited to collaborate with Duke Energy to help grow the number of engineering and technology professionals who can help meet the manufacturing and energy needs across Western North Carolina.
“As someone who has worked with multitudes of electric cooperatives around the South, I know firsthand how important and essential electric power is to the economic growth of this region of North Carolina, and we really appreciate Duke Energy’s support,” said Ray.
The Duke Energy Foundation provides philanthropic support to address needs vital to the health of the communities Duke Energy serves, and the gift to WCU fits with the foundation’s commitment to supporting economic and workforce development, said Lisa Leatherman, Duke Energy’s district manager for Jackson County.
“Engaging the future engineering students in hands-on learning experiences ignites excitement for the profession. Duke Energy is proud to partner with Western Carolina to help support and inspire students at Western Carolina,” said Leatherman.
WCU is dedicating $45,000 of the amount awarded to purchase power electronics lab stations and electric drives lab stations. Wes Stone, interim head of the school’s Department of Engineering and Technology, said the equipment for faculty and student research and hands-on lab experiences adds a new dimension to WCU’s engineering programs.
Jordan Chaires, a graduate student from Raleigh pursuing a master’s degree in technology, said he is excited to be able to use the new equipment to measure the efficiency of the solar power equipment and circuitry he will be working with for his thesis project. Chaires said the project fits in with his interest in working in a field in which he can help increase the efficiency and potential for using renewable energy and power sources.
“I know it sounds cliche, but I just want to help the world and the planet,” he said. “If we have the sun and the wind, why not use it?”
Another $15,000 from the gift will support new Duke Energy Scholars Program merit-based scholarships to be awarded in 2015-16 and 2016-17. The first five Duke Energy scholars, announced Nov. 17, are Milton Canupp, a junior from Minneapolis majoring in electrical engineering; Kaleb Frizzell, a junior from Sylva majoring in electrical and computer engineering technology; Adam Gropp, a junior from Enka majoring in electrical engineering; Dylan Shook, a junior from Claremont majoring in engineering technology; and Jacob Spurling, a junior from Boiling Springs majoring in electrical engineering.
The final $15,000 of the gift will support faculty development and initiatives designed to encourage more students from across the region to consider studying engineering.
WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher thanked Duke Energy for its generous support, which he said is helping to fuel the momentum of WCU’s Kimmel School in driving innovation and economic development in Western North Carolina. Kimmel School faculty and students, through a range of partnerships and collaborations, are helping sustain, maintain and grow businesses and industries across the region, Belcher said.
Enrollment in the school’s engineering programs soared after the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors approved a stand-alone engineering program for WCU in 2012, said Belcher. In addition, the university recently expanded general engineering program offerings to its Asheville location at Biltmore Park to meet demand among existing and prospective businesses along the Interstate-26 growth corridor. That program expansion was made possible with funding from the N.C. General Assembly through the leadership of N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) in 2013. WCU was the only UNC institution in the state that year to receive program expansion funding, Belcher said.
“The General Assembly thought Western Carolina’s engineering program and what we need to do for this region was so important they found money to support it,” said Belcher. “The work our faculty, staff and students are doing to support businesses and industries in our area is incredible and strengthens the overall economic health of all of Western North Carolina.”