Innovation Orange: EMPOWER Program
This edition of Innovation Orange focuses on EMPOWER. EMPOWER is an interdisciplinary graduate education program focused on research at the interface of water and energy cycles. The program provides students with the technical knowledge and professional skills needed to compete for careers in energy, environmental consulting, government, nonprofits, academia and beyond.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) created the NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program in recognition of the need to align graduate education with the broader range of career paths that graduate degree holders currently pursue. The purpose of the Syracuse University NRT program, under the leadership of Laura Lautz, Jessie Page Heroy Professor and department chair, Earth sciences, is to develop new approaches to STEM graduate training and to encourage the development of programs better equipped to prepare graduate students for careers both within and outside higher education.
The Education Model Program on Water-Energy Research (EMPOWER) at Syracuse University was founded in 2016 as one of only eight initial NRT programs in the country. Using data from the NSF regarding the most critical issues in STEM graduate education, EMPOWER faculty and program staff have developed a series of innovative curricular and co-curricular program elements aimed at addressing gaps in traditional graduate education. In addition to developing the program, the team evaluates how each of these elements—alone and in coordination—influences students’ preparedness for a range of career options in water and energy. In particular, they are examining:
• the impact of learning opportunities that integrate both the technical and professional skills needed to work in for-profit, government and not-for-profit environments;
• whether or not such training programs can catalyze new collaborations among faculty and students; and,
• the degree to which participation in a comprehensive traineeship program builds broad awareness of the impact of science and engineering research on policy and the public.
Early evaluation results show positive changes in EMPOWER students’ technical and professional skills, a strong sense of community among students and an increased awareness of the broader impacts of water-energy research.