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Purdue Aims to Fill Engineer Shortage with Hybrid Program

Leaders at Columbus-based Cummins Inc. say the company is the dominant supplier of engines for hybrid commercial vehicles in North America—with a strong presence worldwide as well. Despite its success, Chief Engineer of Power Systems Tom Dollmeyer says finding college graduates with expertise in heavy hybrids to fill job openings is nothing short of a challenge. In response to companies clamoring for these workers, Purdue University has launched a graduate certificate program that it says gives tomorrow's engineers a perspective unlike most.

"There are programs emerging around the world right now helping develop engineers at a graduate level in many of the components that are in hybrid systems—batteries, traction motors and controls," says Dollmeyer. "But there are very few programs working at a system level [like Purdue], and fewer still with a focus on heavy commercial hybrids. There is a shortage, and this program is really going to help fill this shortage." Listen

Administered through Purdue's mechanical engineering program, the graduate certificate was developed for the Hoosier Heavy Hybrid Center of Excellence (H3CoE), which was formed in 2012 with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and is housed at Purdue. The center's ultimate goal is to reduce commercial vehicle fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent.

With the initiative's emphasis on collaborating with industry partners, Purdue leaders say the need for engineering graduates with hybrid expertise soon surfaced as a primary concern.

"If you look at Indiana and surrounding states, there are a large number of companies that are playing some role in large vehicle hybrid systems," says Greg Shaver, Purdue associate professor of mechanical engineering and the center's principal investigator. "It just looked like moon alignment to us for Purdue to be a lead academic institution in creating a unique program like this." Listen

The interdisciplinary certificate, open to any student pursuing a master's in engineering, involves many schools on campus, from agricultural and biological engineering to chemical engineering. Listen

"All of this technology has a direct role in stationary power generation, which is increasingly important with the energy boom that we're having in the U.S. and around the world," says Shaver. "If you've got a graduate engineering degree from Purdue, you may specialize in one area, but this certificate also gives you some serious exposure to energy storage systems, batteries, control engineering—all these different components. You really are coming out with an understanding of how your area of expertise is related to and needs to be integrated with other areas." Listen

As part of the certificate program, students work on real-world projects with the H3CoE industry partners, which include Indiana companies such as Allison Transmission, Navistar International Corp. and Delphi Automotive, in addition to Cummins. Students are currently working hand-in-hand with professional engineers on a project to develop and evaluate charging systems for commercial hybrids. Listen

"We're always on the lookout for programs where we can collaborate during students' time at the university and work directly with them," says Dollmeyer. "It helps solve some of their problems, and we also help develop some of the students—and get the opportunity to hire those students when they go out into the marketplace."

Dollmeyer says Purdue graduates comprise the majority of its engineers, and is hopeful to hire more when those holding the certificate enter the work force.

He adds there's no shortage of challenges in the commercial hybrid industry—reducing emissions, cost, and even noise levels—and he believes these students will be uniquely equipped to help overcome the hurdles.

"[Cummins] has a strong hybrid program now, and we only see the need growing, and I think the students from this program are going to be well-positioned to help us with those challenges," says Dollmeyer. "There is a significant unmet need this program's going to help fill."

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