KNOXVILLE—Two students were the first to earn a new doctoral degree this month from the Energy Science and Engineering program founded by former Gov. Phil Bredesen in partnership with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The General Assembly approved the program in a special session on education in January 2010. The first class enrolled in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education in fall 2011, and it is now one of UT’s fastest-growing graduate programs.
Scott Curran and Vincent Kandagor earned their doctorates in energy science and engineering at UT’s graduate hooding on Thursday, May 8.
“We’re awfully proud of Scott and Vincent,” said Bredesen Center Director Lee Riedinger. “They both transferred into our program once we’d started and were able to really shine, to really do some positive things.”
Curran, who focuses on alternative fuels, works at the National Transportation Research Center. Kandagor, who focuses on renewable energy, hopes to one day return to Kenya and use his knowledge to help his homeland deal with its energy challenges.
“It’s gratifying to see the first graduates finish the program and be able to take what they’ve learned out into the world,” Bredesen said in congratulating them. “The Center has been amazing in the way that it has been able to grow without losing its focus. I know how hard it is to get all the different parts of the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory working together, but they’ve done it in a way that will benefit both of them and our state for a long time to come.”
The UT Board of Trustees renamed the program in 2011 to honor Bredesen’s leadership in education and support of the UT-ORNL partnership.
UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said the former governor laid the groundwork for the center to build a national reputation for its innovative interdisciplinary approach and opportunities for research between UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
“We’re pleased that the Bredesen Center has been so successful in recruiting top-caliber students who are quickly becoming leaders in their fields,” said Cheek. “The center is helping to advance our goal for growing research and graduate programs, all key steps in our journey to become a Top 25 public research university.”
Curran has been serving as outreach advisor for UT’s EcoCAR 2 team, a U.S. Department of Energy competition. He says the Bredesen Center helped to sharpen his focus on different fuels and fuel sources.
“Energy research is increasingly interdisciplinary, and the Bredesen Center is well suited to give both the knowledge depth and breadth needed to succeed in today’s environment,” Curran said.
The center is now a top choice by some of the most promising young scientists, thanks to a combined recruiting effort from UT and ORNL that has attracted students from Ivy League schools and top public universities. The center welcomed 29 new students last fall and is on track to have 100 enrolled by August.
“Naturally, the program has energy studies as its core, but includes students and faculty in everything from materials science to climate studies. It is that wide-ranging nature that makes the program as strong as it is,” Riedinger said.
“It’s like I tell the students: The real world is interdisciplinary,” he said. “We challenge our students to find faculty to mentor them in what it is they want to do. That’s opposite of the traditional model. We don’t restrict what students can do nearly as much as a standard Ph.D., and that has led us to branch out to a number of areas.”
For more on the Bredesen Center, visit http://bredesencenter.utk.edu/index.php.