Sunday, May 3, 2009

The McCombs CleanTech Initiative:

Instead of writing my last blog for ETP on a specific energy technology or policy issue I want to use this opportunity to tell you all about what a few of us McCombs students are doing to try to help the business school to better prepare its students for careers in a rapidly evolving energy industry, and to help promote UT and Austin’s efforts to become the world leader in clean energy.

Many of you are engineering or LBJ students who are able to incorporate studies of energy into the programs you are in here at UT. For us business students though, it’s a bit tougher. McCombs has a strong reputation for preparing its students to work in trading or finance for traditional energy companies. Unfortunately, we have been a bit slow to adapt to the evolution of the industry. While we have many students who are interested in renewable energy, and quite a few alums working in the field, our curriculum only incorporates courses related to oil and gas.

Several of us business students found the lack of a comprehensive approach to energy to be nothing less than shameful. Texas has led the nation in energy production, and UT has produced some of the top business leaders in the industry. Texas has been investing in itself to retain its leadership position in the industry, but McCombs had not take the same steps to ensure that it produces the business leaders of the energy industry of the 21st century… until now.

I came to the McCombs MBA program not just because I wanted to earn a graduate degree in business form one of the best schools in the nation, but also because I wanted to prepare myself for a career in the clean energy industry. When I looked at schools there were ones that had programs designed to serve this area of interest, but none of them offered the comprehensive education and experience that I saw possible at UT. I was ultimately sold on McCombs and Austin because of the Austin Clean Energy Incubator, the McCombs CleanTech Group, and the number of clean energy companies set up to take advantage of Texas’s natural endowment of wind and sun.

While I saw great potential for Austin and Texas in the clean energy industry, I was surprised when I arrived and learned just how much the city and the state were already doing in the industry. I knew there was a lot of wind power in Texas, but I didn’t know that the state had more than twice the capacity of California (at the time). I also didn’t know that the inventor of the lithium-ion battery was a UT researcher, that UT was home to some of the best algae biofuel research in the world, or that cutting-edge solar technology was being developed and commercialized in Austin. I also learned that there were lots of start-ups and small renewable energy companies here in Austin, and that the city had ambitious plans for promoting and investing in clean energy (e.g. Pecan Street and Austin Energy’s plans for a solar farm).

With all of these great things going on it was clear that McCombs could be doing more to prepare students to work in the industry that UT researchers and Austin policymakers were helping to shape. So, Jeff Otto and I went to the new dean of McCombs, Tom Gilligan, to share our thoughts. Not only did Dean Gilligan agree that McCombs could and should do more, but he explained that strengthening McCombs’s approach to energy was part of his strategic vision for the school. And, he also agreed that there was a lot going on in Austin and at UT that few people outside of the Austin clean energy community new about… it was a story that was untold. To address the problem, he asked the McCombs communications department to help out by giving us some of the time of department’s photographer and camera man, Kris Maxwell.

As a result, we were able to develop a short film about why Austin should lead the clean energy revolution (If you haven’t seen the film, you can view this version produced by Jeff Otto at: ). The idea behind the film was to interview the leaders (the entrepreneurs, the policymakers, and the thinkers) of Austin’s clean energy community and ask them to tell their stories. Together, the stories would tell the clean energy story of Austin.

Further, we wanted help make sure that McCombs would continue to be known for producing leaders of the energy industry. So, along with another classmate, Jeff and I developed and proposed a CleanTech MBA Concentration. Other schools around the nation offer courses related to renewable energy, and joint degrees in business and environmental studies, but few offer the opportunity to specialize in clean energy. This proposed concentration focuses on developing project finance skills, but it also will help students to gain a broader perspective of the energy industry, and get first-hand experience through directed studies with clean energy companies and divisions.

While the decision to add the concentration has yet to be made, the Assistant Dean of the business school, Daniel Garza, liked the initiative we showed, so he showed the video to more than 100 prospective students during the McCombs Preview Weekend last month. Since then, several prospective students decided to attend McCombs to pursue an MBA offering the opportunity to focus in clean energy. Even though the concentration has yet to be officially created they see the potential, and are willing to continue to carry that torch until the vision comes to fruition. Ultimately, our hope is that this initiative will make a small contribution to the long list of proof that “What Starts Here Changes the World”.


Sam Brown said...

This is an absolute no brainer. Given that UT is already the leader in Energy educuation, it would be unwise if they didn't leverage this to become the leader in Cleantech education. Most, if not all of the classes needed already exist so it is just a matter of organizing them into one block. This is a fairly nascent industry that appears to be here for the long haul so positioning McCombs to take adavantage of this is a must.

contango said...

The video is awesome. Nice work. I think the fact that the initiative is student led perpetuates the idea that UT and McCombs can continue to be leaders in the changing energy environment. The thing that I really liked about the video is that it did not come off as overly agenda driven even through the eyese of an oil and gas veteran. Start showing this to some corporate donors and get this thing fully funded.

David Wogan said...

Franklin and Jeff: I think you guys are doing some really great work for the McComb's School and UT. You definitely hit the nail on the head when saying that there is more UT and the business school can be doing. Hopefully y'all are successful in getting the CleanTech concentration approved.

It's apparent that Austin leads the way in many areas related to clean tech, but we need to take the lead with business too. Great work, guys!