About the Institute

The Institute for Energy Studies (IES) at Western Washington University (WWU) is a multi-college collaboration that offers interdisciplinary undergraduate degrees to address the science, technology, policy, business and economic aspects of energy systems. The growing WWU energy curriculum includes courses and degrees in Electric (energy) Engineering (BS, ABET-certified), Energy Policy & Management (BA), and Business & (energy) Sustainability (BA), minors in Energy Policy and Energy Science, as well as the option for a self-designed major in energy & environment (BS) via Huxley College of the Environment.

Why study energy? Access to modern energy services, including efficient usage, is essential to realize 20th century, let alone 21st century, living standards worldwide. Meanwhile, a transition from inefficient use of fossil fuels to a clean, efficient energy system is key to mitigating urgent environmental, economic and security risks, including global climate change. Achieving the sustainable energy transition was identified by the United Nations as a “transformational challenge” for our generation.

Addressing this grand challenge requires an interdisciplinary approach that provides both breadth and depth, with a practical toolkit of technical and analytic skills in a context of system-level thinking and understanding. The IES builds on WWU core strengths in collaborative, experiential learning, involving undergraduates in research and community engagement, working closely with practitioners in the local community to study and execute clean energy projects and programs. We take a practical approach, using the campus and community as our laboratory for hands-on learning, while collaborating with cities, utilities and energy firms in the region.

From the outset, the IES has been driven by student interest and guided by the advice of its advisory board, composed of leaders in the region’s energy industry. Our programs are designed to meet the future workforce needs of Washington’s emerging clean energy economy, which emphasizes clean energy technology, energy efficiency, smart systems, environmental mitigation and entrepreneurial solutions.

Understanding the technology and economics of energy use reveals opportunities for new technologies and policies to improve energy efficiency throughout the economy, reducing costs and emissions. As the electricity industry evolves from a static, centralized structure toward dynamic, distributed models, there will be new challenges to integrate and balance resources as diverse as solar, wind, hydro, bio- and fossil-fuel energy with smart grids, smart buildings and plug-in vehicles. Technologies to make fossil fuels cleaner and substitute biofuels are in development. Our graduates will find opportunities to develop innovative ideas, from advanced technology to new business models, that transform the energy system toward a more sustainable path.

We expect that WWU energy students will acquire the appropriate foundation in math and science underlying energy processes and systems. They will learn applied energy economics and have the opportunity to build management or entrepreneurial skills and analytic tools in key fields such as electric power, energy efficiency, building science and greenhouse gas management. The IES also links to WWU’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation program, with the goal of preparing graduates to become both founders of new enterprises and disrupters of existing businesses in need of innovation, including energy utilities.

Contact Information

Institute Director
Joel N. Swisher

Admin & Program Advisor
Gail Cowan


Institute for Energy Studies

Western Washington University
516 High Street, MS9079
Arntzen Hall 303
Bellingham, Washington 98225
(360) 650-4422