Environmental Education and Technology Transfer Program

Ron Bhada and J. Derald Morgan*


Abstract

The education of a work force that can address issues and successfully transfer technology related to the management of waste requires a unified effort for the next several decades from multiorganizational experts. The field is too broad for any one organization or discipline to educate and train environmental professionals necessary for all areas, including all branches of science, engineering, agriculture, public policy, risk assessment, regulations, economics and communications.

The Waste-Management Education and Research Consortium (WERC) has successfully demonstrated that a matrix-type organization (including three major universities, a community college, two national laboratories and industry) can effectively expand the technology resources to address issues related to the management of all types of waste. This program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, has successfully implemented an education and technology transfer program that includes pre-college education, undergraduate education, graduate degrees, associate level degrees, professional level distance learning, retraining, technology development, and a total technology transfer component for industry and government.

Introduction

Efficient and safe management of nuclear, hazardous and solid waste is a critical multidisciplinary issue that requires an integrated collaborative effort between multiple organizations with diverse expertise and experience.

In 1990, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) approved a cooperative agreement for a WERC program. This consortium includes as its members, New Mexico State University (NMSU), University of New Mexico (UNM), New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMIMT), Navajo Community College, and the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories.

The model five-year program was assigned the mission of demonstrating that a university/national laboratory partnership can effectively expand the nation's capability to address the issues related to management of all types of waste via education and technology development.

The formative years have conclusively demonstrated that the partnership of universities, national laboratories and industry, developed by WERC, is an effective tool for education, technology development and technology transfer, with the education process playing a critical role in technology transfer.

The WERC program is available to over 3,000 students in academic institutions with a minority population of 25-95 percent. This paper describes the formation of this consortium and the results that have been achieved.

Organization

A key to the success of this program has been the organization of the program into one management team, although the consortium includes six separate academic institutions and government laboratories.

The organization is outlined in Figures 1 and 2. Figure 1 shows the contract flow organization. The Department of Energy's cooperative agreement is with the regents of New Mexico State University. The program is led by a director who reports to the Dean of Engineering at NMSU. The dean also serves as chairman of an executive board that sets the strategic direction of the Consortium. The executive board is made up of top management representatives from DOE, EPA, the national laboratories, academia, government and industry, and provides oversight of Consortium plans and progress by reviewing overall program plans and strategies, key resource allocations and key hiring decisions, as well as evaluating progress against approved plans and budgets. An executive committee, consisting of one voting member from each Consortium entity, has been set up to discuss and resolve operational issues in a timely manner.

Figure 2 shows the organization for operations of WERC. All operations are managed by one director who is the central point of contact and acts on behalf of all the Consortium members. This one Director approach is a key to the unification of diverse members. The staff functions for the major activities of education, technology development and technology transfer are under the direction of associate and assistant directors reporting to the director of WERC. These individuals coordinate activities within the WERC operation. At the same time, each academic consortium member has an operational head who spearheads and coordinates all WERC technology development and technology transfer activities within that academic institute.

This matrix organization assures central coordination of activities, while providing a "champion" at each of the institutes for routine operations as well as creation of new technology initiatives.

The Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center and the Environmental Fellows Program are separate programs reporting administratively to the director of WERC. These programs are strengthened by the coordination and collaboration with WERC and vice versa.

Industrial participation is built into the program as part of an advisory board. In addition, industrial participation is included in an Industrial Affiliation Program and the Teleconference Educational Program. Sponsorship is continually sought for specific programs that satisfy the criteria listed previously, i.e., technical excellence and relevance to the Consortium's purpose.

The Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories are not shown on the organization chart. However, they work as members at all levels, i.e., as part of the executive board for setting strategy and direction; as part of the education process, as adjunct faculty; and in the research projects as co-investigators and collaborators.

Technology Development

The university/national laboratory/industry partnership of WERC has resulted in unique solutions to technology issues. These technologies have attained the demonstration stage at DOE and industry sites within the short period of three years since the program was started. Further, the program has resulted in students with experience on practical development projects at the leading edge of technology, thus forming a base for technology transfer as these students flow into government and industry jobs. Several of our past students occupy responsible positions and are already technology transfer agents.

The scope of the Consortium's projects is broad-based and is designed to include all areas of radioactive, hazardous and solid waste management, pollution prevention, environmental restoration, economics, public policy and regulations.

Several of the unique technologies developed via WERC are successfully demonstrated through application at national laboratories and industrial sites. Examples are listed below:

In the next five years, applications to DOE and other sites will be a major result of this program activity. Equally important is the practical experience that about 500 faculty members and students have obtained from the involvement in the technology projects and in the exchange of technology between the universities, the national laboratories, and industry.

Four laboratory facilities have been set up to assist with the research and education and these continue to attract industry and state participation:

A major effort at the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC) has also been started to monitor the environment of the Carlsbad, New Mexico area. This group, which reports to the director of WERC, generates experimental data using state-of-the-art techniques and conducts research on monitoring techniques.

Education

During its formative years, WERC has successfully set up the infrastructure and the activities for education and retraining which are proving to be significant factors for technology transfer as follows:

These have been critical to the technology transfer effort, including direct transfer of state-of-the-art technology as over 100 of WERC students enter the DOE and other work force annually.

Technology Transfer

The technology transfer function of the Consortium is emphasized throughout the program. An executive board and an advisory board composed of representatives from top management of government, industry, academia, and environmental organizations have been formed and are functioning for the purpose of technology transfer starting at the top level of industry and government. Major technology transfer conferences and teleconferences are held annually for industry and government. Continuous contact is maintained with government and industry to transfer the technology development results to real applications. Over 100 technical papers have been presented and published on the various aspects of this program. Additionally, a large number of our students are transferring information via summer internships, co-op job programs, and permanent placements that have resulted because of WERC.

Strategy of WERC

WERC has proven to be an invaluable resource for the needs of DOE and others. Therefore, WERC's strategy is to utilize the excellent base started by DOE and the WERC partners and for the program to continue to reach its objectives to produce:

  1. New professionals educated in economics, law, business, communications, engineering and science for the management of nuclear, hazardous and solid waste transferring state-of-the-art technologies as they enter the work force. This need will exist for at least the next three decades.
  2. Technologists trained or retrained in the safe handling of radioactive and hazardous waste, actively working at DOE and industry sites.
  3. A pipeline of pre-college students informed of opportunities and technological challenges offered by the environmental field.
  4. Faculty and students working together as one unit with national laboratories and industry personnel using state-of-the-art technology information to resolve DOE and other site remediation issues.
  5. Retrained professionals and management personnel in government and industry via the interactive television and on-site intensive courses. This retraining effort will be a base for technology transfer for managerial and professional resources for several decades.
  6. World-class environmental monitoring laboratories, including the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, that serve the real needs of DOE and communities.

The WERC program has been outstanding in its achievement to-date. This program annually develops unique technological solutions and transfers information to over 2000 students and professionals. The program has graduated over 100 students and is projected to graduate at least 100 annually as it continues. The $5 million per year initial WERC program has been leveraged by new programs of over $3 million annually. New outreach programs currently in the formation stages, will further increase the new program starts to $5-10 million annually.

* Ron Bhada, Director of WERC and Associate Dean, College of Engineering, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico

* J. Derald Morgan, Dean, College of Engineering, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico