Illinois Tech’s foray into the energy arena can be traced to the 1940s, when Illinois Tech first developed a formal affiliation with the Institute of Gas Technology (IGT), establishing the gas engineering graduate program and launching energy-related research between the two entities.
This arrangement continued until 1985, when IGT phased out its gas engineering program and, at the same time, the Gas Research Institute, under the direction of Henry Linden, provided funding to the Illinois Tech Department of Chemical Engineering to attract new faculty to energy related areas. Hamid Arastoopour was the faculty member hired by Illinois Tech to establish the Energy Technology education and research program. As part of this program, a specialization (minor) in energy technology at the undergraduate level and an energy research program focus were launched.
An industrial membership program also was established to attract funding to support student scholarships at the undergraduate and Ph.D. levels. In addition, funds were raised to establish the Max McGraw Endowed Professorship in Energy and Power Engineering and Management, occupied by Dr. Linden.
During the 1990s, the scope of the Energy Technology Program was broadened and renamed the Energy, Environment and Economics (E3) program. During this time, educational specializations in E3 at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, and a Master of Environmental Management degree (a collaborative program between Illinois Tech Stuart School of Business and the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering) were launched.
In addition, funds were raised for an endowed chair professorship—namely, the Linden Chair, occupied by Dr. Arastoopour.
Several clusters of excellence in research—including the Energy + Power Center, the Electric Power and Power Electronics Center, the Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering, and the environmental engineering research focus—were also established.
In response to urgent national need, in 2004 Illinois Tech took a leadership role in establishing the Energy and Sustainability Institute (ESI), building on the university’s reputation at that time for more than six decades as a leader in energy research and education. ESI activities were significantly expanded beyond engineering and science to include strong participation with Illinois Tech College of Architecture and Illinois Tech Stuart School of Business as well as involvement by faculty from law, design, and psychology.
In 2007, Illinois Tech benefactor and trustee Ralph Wanger provided funding to further enhance the scope of energy and sustainability research activities at Illinois Tech, formerly under the auspices of ESI, under the renamed Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research (WISER). This funding provides needed infrastructure support as well as seed research grants for faculty and initial graduate scholarships to attract the brightest and most creative Ph.D. students to WISER—formally established in the 2008/2009 academic year.
This funding has also allowed Illinois Tech to assume a leadership position as our nation faces significant future challenges to the security of our energy and water supplies and the sustainability of our natural resources. WISER is positioned to make key contributions to the advancement of national and global energy and sustainability education, research, development, and economic and policy issues.
During the first two Five-Year Strategic Plans (2009 and 2014), WISER met its goals in targeted categories such as: implementing the Cross-disciplinary Seed Funding Grants (CSFG) program, launching a significant number of Interprofessional Projects (IPROs) in energy and sustainability related areas, working closely with the Illinois Tech Office of Admissions in attracting top graduate and undergraduate students to the University, graduating close to the targeted number of Ph.D. students, and WISER faculty attracted about $80 million in research funding. During this same time period, WISER also recruited more than 85 faculty members from different colleges to get involved in WISER activities. In addition, three new chaired professors in areas related to energy and sustainability were filled.
Currently, there are five chaired professorships at Illinois Tech in the energy and sustainability related areas. They include the: Carl and Paul Bodine Endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering; Grainger Chair in Electrical and Power Engineering; Henry R. Linden Endowed Chair in Engineering; Rowe Family Endowed Chair in Sustainable Energy; and Max McGraw Endowed Chair in Energy and Power Engineering and Management.
To date, WISER has funded 24 Cross-disciplinary Seed Funding Grant (CSFG) projects totaling approximately $650,000; more than 75 proposals have been prepared and submitted to funding agencies based on the results of these completed WISER CSFG projects. Successful funding to date: 9 projects with total funding exceeding $3 million; the ratio of income to investment: 5/1. The WISER CSFG program ensures that WISER will continuously have large cross-disciplinary research proposals in the pipeline.
In 2015, WISER established a Faculty Advisory Team to continuously develop and evaluate WISER academic and research initiatives. This team includes the: WISER director, WISER associate and assistant directors, and all holders of chaired professorships in the area of energy and sustainability at Illinois Tech (who are also members of the WISER Faculty Affiliates group).
WISER has launched a significant number of Interprofessional Projects (IPROs) in energy and sustainability related areas (more than 20% of total university IPROs). WISER has also launched a significant number of outreach and collaborative programs with other universities, communities, industry, and research laboratories.
WISER administration also worked with Illinois Tech architects to complete the renovation of the 16th floor of the Michael Paul Galvin Tower and successfully moved all WISER activities to this location as of January 2012. This state-of-the-art facility was designed specifically to house the WISER operation and the Robert W. Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation and its Smart Grid Workforce Education and Training Program.
WISER also worked closely with the Office of Campus Energy and Sustainability and different student organizations involved in areas related to sustainable energy and sustainability to make Illinois Tech one of the most sustainable urban campuses in the nation. Projects included the development of a campus microgrid and the establishment of a renewable energy system that incorporates a wind turbine, a number of rooftop solar panels and battery storage systems, and electric car charging stations. In addition, projects in recycling, composting, urban farming, and water management were also established in collaboration with the Office of Campus Energy and Sustainability and student organizations.
In summary, WISER successfully continued to position itself as one of the distinguished research institutes at the national level in the area of energy and sustainability.