EPIC Unites Industry and Education for Energy

The Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) at UNC Charlotte was formed in response to the need from industry to supply highly trained engineers qualified to meet the demands of the energy industry – through traditional and continuing education, and provide sustainable support the Carolina energy industry by increasing capacity and support for applied research. EPIC is a highly collaborative industry/education partnership that produces a technical workforce, advancements in technology for the global energy industry while supporting the Carolinas’ multi-state economic and energy security.

The energy industry faces a workforce crisis just as there is a need to build new energy facilities, and UNC Charlotte has a history of supplying professional talent to energy and engineering firms. An ample energy supply and well-trained professional workforce are foundations for economic development, and the Charlotte Region is an energy expertise hub that can become more vibrant through EPIC. “EPIC is about regional growth and advancement in the energy industry,” said Dr. Steve Patterson, a distinguished professor in the Lee College of Engineering. “Clearly, one strength of EPIC is the outstanding energy engineering assets of the region in which we live.”

With more than 250 regional energy corporations that include Duke Energy, Siemens, Framatome, Westinghouse, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and many others, EPIC is working to meet the needs of these organizations through the expansion of energy engineering studies in our classrooms and through the Energy Concentration.

Industry involvement with EPIC is led through a board of advisors that oversees the center’s strategy and helps build industry relations. A separate implementation team works to align curriculum to industry needs, assist in student projects, and identify research topics.

Dhiaa Jamil is Duke Energy’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, and chairman of the EPIC advisory board. He is also a UNC Charlotte engineering alumnus. “EPIC plays a significant role in providing engineering students with the fundamentals for supporting power production and infrastructure design and maintenance,” Jamil said. “EPIC trains students in power production fundamentals, which will reduce the time needed and costs associated with training new employees. These graduates can start work with an understanding of the industry and associated work.”

Additionally, EPIC provides Duke Energy with a local partner for research opportunities, Jamil said. “This can include solving technology problems, as well as developing and improving existing technology, like a smarter grid. EPIC has a key role in expanding emphasis on renewable technology and serves as a hub for renewables research.”

“It’s an energy think tank. EPIC is where theory meets reality,” stated Jim Little, a former energy executive, is a member of the EPIC board of advisors. “I see EPIC as a place industry can turn to when they need a new and creative solution,” he noted.

“The U.S. will be rebuilding its energy infrastructure in the near future,” Little said. “The pipeline of talent for this effort will come from our educational system. EPIC is a great opportunity for strengthening this educational system, and we’re very interested in providing our support and guidance to make it successful.”

The EPIC board is working with the William States Lee College of Engineering to create programs that go beyond just technical skills, Little said. “We need to emphasize skills outside of engineering, such as project management, collaborative teamwork, risk analysis, and leadership. We want to see a balanced portfolio of skills.”