Power engineering practicum provides students with industry introduction

Closeup of students George Ayala Kirk Rauhala, and Jessica Restrepo, and Vuoch Sim Nge visiting SnoPUD.
Students George Ayala Kirk Rauhala, and Jessica Restrepo, and Vuoch Sim Nge visit SnoPUD.

Voiland College electrical engineering students had a chance to learn from power engineering industry experts during a unique, week-long practicum organized by Washington State University’s Energy Systems Innovation Center.

Power engineers ensure that our electricity is accessible and safe to use. The one credit power engineering internship was introduced in 2013 and aims to provide students with an in-depth view of the activities of an engineer in the industry at no additional housing cost. Thirty-four students took part in the micro-practicum this year, which combines facility tours, hands-on experience and professional development opportunities to recruit and retain power engineering students who soon will enter the growing field.

“The experience is inspirational because it shows what a career in power engineering can look like and how the concepts we learn in school are applied,” said Brent Otto, a third-year electrical engineering student. “Knowing this has helped me gain perspective on how my own interests fit into the power engineering world.” 

Otto, along with electrical engineering student Vincent Farro, gained a behind-the-scenes look at Tacoma Power, the city’s main public utilities campus. The campus was one of 10 sites that students visited during the course of the week. Tacoma Power engineers invited the students into their workplace to explain their daily tasks and activities that lead to their successful delivery of electricity to 180,000 customers.

In-depth views of the organization’s distribution, system planning and hydro-resource management allowed Otto and Farro to gain a comprehensive understanding of a power engineer’s daily tasks and how they relate to the company’s larger mission.

Electrical engineering theory was brought to life during visits to the company’s substation, transformer and energy control center, which monitors and coordinates the local power system. Additional facility tours allowed the students to network with engineers, who were eager to share their time and experience. 

“The engineers helped me make connections between the work they do and the material I’ve learned in classes,” Otto said. “They showed me what it’s like to make a career in a professional environment.”

The students also learned about anticipated changes in the power industry, including the growth in electric vehicles and the movement towards renewable energy, and how the organization is preparing for those changes. 

Otto’s practicum experience solidified his interest in pursuing a career in the power electronics industry. After graduating, he hopes to assist with integrating renewable resources into the grid through distributed generation, a power system that aims to provide power near the point of use instead of through a large grid. 

WSU’s Energy Systems Innovation Center, led by Mani Venkatasubramanian, is a research, outreach and education-oriented program at the forefront of the evolving power engineering industry. ESIC provides students with hands-on research and experiential opportunities to recruit and retain emerging power engineers. 

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