As an undergraduate majoring in mechanical engineering, Andy Edmonds ’09 had little interest in the power industry until he learned of Lehigh’s new master’s of engineering (M.Eng.) in energy systems engineering (ESE).

Edmonds enrolled in the 10-month ESE program, finished in May 2010, and was hired by Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, Calif. He has begun a four-year apprenticeship for nuclear plant equipment operators and will move through several positions, from equipment operator to reactor operator to shift manager.

The ESE degree, says Edmonds, proved invaluable in landing a job.

“The ESE’s industry-focused curriculum,” says Edmonds, “sets us apart. I had to take an entrance exam just to qualify for the interview at Southern California Ed. Only a small percentage of candidates pass. But thanks to what I learned in the ESE program, it was not too difficult.

“Now I find I can talk intelligently with the Navy veterans here who have operated reactors."

Edmonds’ story is typical of the 22 students who earned M.Eng. degrees in ESE’s first year. Despite the recession, all the new graduates were offered jobs within three months after completing the program.

Jeff Zubernis ’09 also enrolled in the ESE program after earning a B.S. in mechanical engineering.

“The emphasis on management and business was certainly one of the strengths of the program,” says Zubernis. “We had courses in project management and energy economics. A lot of power plant managers spoke to our classes. All of this proved very helpful.”

Zubernis received an offer from Dresser-Rand, a manufacturer of compressors and turbines for the power, oil and gas industries, and recently began a five-year rotation in management development.

“My first assignment will be as an applications engineer at the steam turbine site in Wellsville, N.Y.,” says Zubernis. “This equipment is used to turn excess heat into useful energy at refineries and petrochemical plants.

“As an undergrad you learn all the technical details — how a turbine works, how electric circuits work. But I had no idea what went on behind the scenes to make that happen. After taking the ESE program, I can talk on the same plane with people in the industry, using terms and concepts that people with just an undergraduate degree would not understand.”

Joseph Mulhern, another alumnus from the ESE’s first class, took a job with PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

“When I started,” says Mulhern, “I needed to learn to use the company software. But I did not need any additional training in the general concepts of the electrical grid, which has impressed my coworkers who are helping train me.

“I’m learning to perform outage analysis. When a utility wants to shut down a line for maintenance, I can review their request, analyze how it would affect the grid, and then approve or deny, based on whether overloading would occur on other lines.

“The background knowledge I received at Lehigh, especially in the Transmission and Distribution: Smart Grid course, has enabled me to hit the ground running."