Student energy and sustainability policy balances education and disaster response


Working with strangers, Swithers said one thing is for sure – storms are getting more frequent and more severe, causing more damage and outages. And this cycle lengthens responder response time during hurricane season.

Swithers recalls a trip – where he was called to Alabama and spent about a month there on and off – where he spent Halloween night keeping a power line running while crews worked to sort through the damage caused by the storm.

“The first two days everyone is so happy and grateful to see you,” Swithers said. “But after about four or five days it all starts to go up a notch and the tensions get higher and higher.”

It’s understandable, he said. He lived in West Palm Beach, Florida, and remembers losing power for weeks. Its family history is filled with members who are part of the energy industry.

That’s part of what drew him to this role and now to Penn State, where he wants to use his expertise in various fields to make an impact on the future of the energy field.

Swithers once tried to get his undergraduate degree and almost got there. He earned approximately 130 credits from Purdue University before entering the industry. A decade of life experiences helped him find his calling. Now he sees a need for those with his expertise as the energy system evolves into a more sustainable and reliable system. This change will require engineers and policymakers to work together to ensure these goals are met while keeping energy prices affordable. We will also have to change our mentality to integrate a much larger percentage of renewable energies.

“That’s what drew me to the ESP degree,” Swithers said. “I have an engineering background. And I worked in agriculture and civil engineering. I love this component of this major. It’s a great kind of space to be in, especially with where I think we’re going to be in the next two decades.


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