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Duke Focus Program Introduces Global Energy Topic

Program is designed with the first-year engineering curriculum in mind but hopes to attract students campus-wide

Beginning next year, first-year students at Duke University interested in pursuing careers in the energy sector will have a new opportunity to explore the subject through a focused, in-depth program.

The Duke Focus Program offers more than a dozen interdisciplinary clusters that expose first-semester students to ideas from the vantage points of different disciplines across campus. Beginning fall semester of 2018, the program will add a new cluster titled “Global Energy: Past, Present, and Future.” Not only will the new cluster add an important topic previously missing from the program’s offerings, it will be the first Duke Focus Program in almost ten years designed to fit the curriculum of first-year engineering students.

“For the majority of the Duke Focus Program’s existence, the classes being offered were mostly through the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and so did not fit well into the rigid curriculum of first-year students in the Pratt School of Engineering,” said Nico Hotz, assistant professor of the practice of mechanical engineering and materials science and the organizer of the new program. “This new Global Energy cluster is designed to give Pratt students a better opportunity to participate in the Duke Focus Program.”

While the new program in Global Energy is more heavily focused on engineering than other clusters, it is still available to both Pratt and Trinity students. Trying to make the curriculum friendly to both, Hotz says he hopes there will be a mix of students, as Pratt students would benefit from having more connections with Trinity students, and vice versa.

As is the case in all clusters, the Global Energy program will provide options for four classes, of which students must take two. The classes available for 2018 include a class based around a sustainable energy design project associated with Pratt’s new first-year design course, an introduction to contemporary energy topics, the exploration of novel materials and technologies that promise to affect the future of energy, and a history course on the use of energy and its generation throughout the ages.

“The history course explores how deep energy runs in our society and how the choices made and technologies developed relating to energy production have shaped our country and the world,” said Jonathon Free, a postdoctoral associate in the history department and a member of the Duke Energy Initiative. “Students will also leave the class having learned critical thinking skills and how to make compelling arguments, which both have benefits that transcend any specific discipline.”

Besides the core classes, the Duke Focus Program includes small group seminars, shared housing arrangements that facilitate discussion and scholarly exploration, field trips, travel, community service and research. The Duke Focus Program as a whole admits between 20 and 25 percent of the Duke first-year class, and applications are now available online.

“Most students I see who are interested in energy don’t really get an actual taste of the subject until their junior year,” said Hotz. “With this program, we hope to catch students interested in energy, no matter what field of study they’re planning to pursue, right in their first weeks and introduce them directly to all the work and research that Duke does related to energy.”