Symposium brings together graduate, undergraduate students in the name of energy

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With a campus as large as UT’s, it is easy for graduate and undergraduate students to become disconnected from one another.

Assistant public affairs professor Varun Rai said UT’s Energy Institute started the UT Energy Symposium in 2011 in an effort to bridge that gap by putting graduate and undergraduate students in the same space. The symposium brings speakers to campus throughout the semester and held its second one-week Student Research Showcase Thursday. The showcase featured four graduate students and their research on different aspects of energy resources. The goal is to get both sets of students to interact with each other.

“We try to make that interaction possible,” Rai said. “We have done three semesters of it and have had 30 speakers so far,”

The symposium is also available as a course. Students who register for it receive one credit-hour for the 15-week program, according to the symposium’s website.

Rai said he believes the showcase has been rewarding for the students who have attended.

Civil engineering graduate student Ashlynn Stillwell, who spoke about the effects of water on thermoelectric generation, said it was a great way to kick off the semester for the symposium.

“It is nice to talk about student research and then have professionals and experts throughout the semester,” Stillwell said. “That way you can touch on what is happening here and around the state and country.”

Stillwell said she hopes undergraduates hearing her and the other students become inspired to think about the issues their research brings up.

“In order to have sustainable solutions for generations to come, we have to think outside the box,” Stillwell said. “That takes young, fresh minds, or minds that have not been engraved in it for five, 10, 15 years, to bring new energy to the energy sector.”

Still new to the symposium series, Rai said they tried to get the word out about the showcase as much as possible this year, including sending out e-mails and running advertisements in The Daily Texan.

Freshman Oscar Escajeda said he received one of those e-mails from a graduate student he knows and decided to check it out.

“I’m really interested in energy,” Escajeda said. “I think that solving energy problems is ultimately going to solve the world’s problems.”

After hearing the four graduate students speak, Escajeda said it made him want to do the same when he is a graduate student.

“In a couple of years, hopefully I am up here talking to everyone,” Escajeda said.

Rai said that the event was videotaped and would be put on the Energy Institute website in two to four days.