Department of Energy grant to expand energy workforce training at SDSU

April 23, 2024
IAC Team Members
From left: Mechanical Engineering Student and IAC Intern Donovan Orozco, Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor and Assistant Director of SDSU IAC Joaquin Camacho, Lead Director and Founder of SDSU IAC and Mechanical Engineering Professor Asfaw Beyene, Mechanical Engineering Student and SDSU IAC Center Lead Student Edgar Diaz, Mechanical Engineering Student and IAC Intern Oliver Casillas. (Taylor Slane/SDSU)

The federally funded San Diego State University Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) spearheaded by Asfaw Beyene, mechanical engineering professor in the College of Engineering, has been serving Southern California for the past thirty years.

Since its inception, the IAC has evaluated over 650 manufacturing plants. It is the oldest of all IACs in the Golden State and one of the first five centers in the country to be awarded an additional grant by the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a Center of Excellence. 

This new grant supports the development of the Western Regional Center of Excellence, a branch of the IAC that will allow the team to extend and enhance its complimentary environmental consulting services to local, underserved communities, all while gaining critical clean energy job experience.

This center partners with San Francisco State University, and San José University and will collaborate with Laney College in Oakland, CA and Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, CA.

“Through this strategic investment, the Department of Energy is fostering local innovation, supporting the growth of San Diego’s clean energy sector, and guiding SDSU students toward a brighter future. The IAC has a long history of empowering students, providing them with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the complexities of the clean energy industry,” said John Mcmillan, assistant VP of economic development at SDSU Division of Research and Development.

“This award not only cultivates talent but also ignites our student’s passion for innovation and sustainability,” he said.

The student engineers currently use skills learned in the classroom to advise small-to-medium-sized manufacturing plants on ways they can enhance the sustainability of their operations. They go through the entire manufacturing process and prepare a report that includes unbiased suggestions for pollution reduction such as solar panels, batteries, energy storage systems, more efficient lighting, updated machines, and much more.

“During an energy assessment visit at a production facility we, IAC engineering interns, gain in-field experience from assessing the facility's production process and equipment use. We also engage in professional dialogue  with the  facility's production management to discuss ideas and solutions,” said Edgar Diaz, mechanical engineering student and SDSU IAC Center lead student.

Through this process, they not only help local businesses and underserved communities advance into the green energy era, reduce waste and emissions, and cut costs, but they also gain essential knowledge and a certification that will help springboard them into professional energy engineering careers. 

“The IAC provides an avenue for our students to challenge conventional norms and champion environmental justice, striving to alleviate the disproportionate environmental and public health burdens borne by our marginalized communities,” said Mcmillan.

As the world continues to shift toward a more renewable-focused landscape, students graduate feeling prepared for the competitive job market. 

“Some of my students who were in this program some 25 years ago are now employers in the energy field – some local, and some outside of the region. It’s a very successful program,” said Beyene. The students we have graduated over recent years are all over the energy map, so we are very proud of our alumni,” said Beyene.

In addition, the IAC and Center of Excellence are preparing the communities and manufacturing plants for the green economy, setting them up for success. It will also engage with labor unions and their apprenticeship programs, invest in workforce training with a focus on minority-serving institutions, and work with tribal communities at local colleges.

“Every IAC engineering student intern is provided the opportunity to gain valuable professional engineering experience and skill sets that will allow us to make an immediate impact in the professional engineering workplace,” said Diaz.

With the new funding, the IAC and Center of Excellence can now apply the same audit and reporting process to communities on the West Coast that oftentimes don’t have the resources to hire consultants. 

“As an HSI, SDSU engineering students bring their invaluable perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences to the forefront, unlocking innovative solutions to mitigate industrial pollution, ensuring a more equitable and sustainable future,” said Mcmillan.