DOE Budget Fleshes out Obama Energy Education Initiative

May 7, 2009 | Jesse Jenkins,

President Obama and the Department of Energy are launching a new energy education initiative, very similar to the National Energy Education Act recommendations advanced by the Breakthrough Institute beginning in June 2008 (see recent post here). Today, the Department of Energy released official FY 2010 budget documents that start to flesh out what this new program will look like. It appears the program will receive $115 million in funding, if the President's budget request is implemented.

Here's the description of the program from the new 'Budget Highlights' document available here (pdf):

RE-ENERGYSE (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge)

The Department will launch a comprehensive K-20+ science and engineering initiative, funded at $115 million in FY 2010, to educate thousands of students at all levels in the fields contributing to the fundamental understanding of energy science and engineering systems. This initiative, which complements the Department's other education efforts, will provide graduate research fellowships in scientific and technical fields that advance the Department's energy mission; provide training grants to universities that establish multidisciplinary research and education programs related to clean energy; support universities that dramatically expand energy-related research opportunities for undergraduates; build partnerships between community colleges and different segments of the clean tech industry to develop customized curriculum for "green collar" jobs; and increase public awareness, particularly among young people, about the role that science and technology can play in responsible environmental stewardship.


Later, the document specifies that $80 million will be dedicated to higher ed initiatives, while the remaining $35 million will focus on technical training as well as K12 eduction efforts (see p. 30).

A presentation on the budget delivered by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is also posted online (pdf). The brief slide deck highlights the new RE-ENERGYSE initiative and appears to indicate the number of students the program will support at different grade levels in a chart shown here:

Chu RE-ENERGYSE.jpg


The Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists program is an existing DOE education program managed by the Office of Science to engage and support young scientists and science educators, including internships and fellowships to perform work alongside experience researchers at National Labs. The 2010 budget request includes a 52% increase in funding for this program as well, a $7 million increase over FY 2009, bringing the programs budget to $20.7 million.

The new energy education initiative will be a joint program between DOE and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Further details and funding levels for NSF's portion of the program will likely appear in the FY 2010 NSF budget request, but the agency apparently canceled a briefing it was scheduled to hold today on the new budget.

Initial commentary:

The new RE-ENERGYSE program is the right kind of program at exactly the right time. We applaud President Obama and Secretary Chu for advancing this critical energy education initiative.

President Obama's higher eduction priorities and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have both worked to expand overall access to higher eduction as well, just as the National Defense Education Act did in the 1960s. However, if we want to ensure that students are both inspired and empowered to engage in energy innovation and enter fields central to our national energy challenges, a major effort is needed.

The scale of the new RE-ENERGYSE program must grow quickly to truly prepare a new generation of scientists, entrepreneurs and engineers to tackle the energy innovation challenge. Reaching just 1,735 undergrads and 660 graduate students and post-docs seems too small to have a transformative impact on the educational arena we need. For a sense of scale, 17 million Americans are currently enrolled in institutes of higher eduction, as we noted in the National Energy Education Act proposal (available here, pdf).

This kind of program is exactly what's needed. While a smaller, pilot scale may make sense as the new initiative launches, the RE-ENERGYSE program must quickly scale to ensure a new generation of American innovators are ready to rise to the greatest innovation challenge our nation has ever faced: making clean energy cheap and securing a prosperous global clean energy economy.