EME 466
Energy and Sustainability in Society

Meet the Instructor

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Welcome to EME 466: Energy and Sustainability in Society

MAREA Project Team
MAREA Project Team (that's me on the left).
Credit: V. Cole

Hi! My name is Vera Cole, and I’ll be your instructor for this course. I’m happy to be here and look forward to working with you. I'm fascinated by energy—the science, the industry, the economics, the socio-implications, and the magic of energy in its many forms and transformations. I also believe this is a topic of immense importance at this point in world history—in terms of the environment, security and freedom, and economic stability. We need strong, balanced policy, supported by informed voters. I hope this course adds to our collective working knowledge.

I am from South Carolina originally and started college there at Clemson University. I finished my degree in Mechanical Engineering at New York Institute of Technology on Long Island. While working for Motorola, I earned my masters degree in Industrial Engineering at Arizona State University. A few years later, tempted by a grant from the National Science Foundation, I happily returned to academic life and received my PhD from Drexel University in Philadelphia, where I studied Information Science and Technology.

I paid my own way through school, with the help of loans, grants and scholarships. I always worked while in school and understand how hard it can be to balance work, family and classes. I’d certainly do it all again...but it sure feels good to sleep past 7:00 on a weekend morning! Many of you are in this demanding (and rewarding) place in your lives right now. I commend your hard work and thank you for your present and future contributions.

I have held a wide range of engineering positions, including Regional Editor for Electronic Products magazine, manufacturing manager for Unisys Corp., business process design and methodology positions with several B2B integration high-tech start ups (these companies offered software and services that helped businesses do business with one another more efficiently), and many consulting projects. In the late 70s, early 80s, I did solar-related work and decided a few years ago to return to these roots, shifting my career back in the direction of renewable energy. It’s proven to be a perfect fit, professionally and personally. I have always practiced (never perfected!) the principles of simple, sustainable living. I'm a compulsive recycler, avid conservationist, yogi and vegetarian. We belong to a local organic co-op, have a geothermal heating system in our home and will be adding solar electric this year.

Two pictures: The class and the completed solar array at Penn State's Hazleton campus
Here, is the tired and happy class with our work complete; and, the operating array, hard at work basking in the sun.
Credit: V. Cole

I am president of a non-profit group called the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (MAREA). I often co-instruct hands-on solar electric installation workshops, where participants install (I mean, they really do the work!) photovoltaic arrays from the bottom up. One of these was a 3.2 kW system at Penn State’s Hazleton campus. If you visit the campus, check it out; it’s next to Chestnut Cottage.

In 2009, I wrote a book, “Pennsylvania Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Electricity” which was published by MAREA. (If you’re interested, see additional information on Amazon.com.) I'm an active member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's Solar Stakeholders Working Group and participate at the state level in education and advocacy efforts, lobbying for solar policy, working with other non-profits, industry associations and electricity providers.

I’m often invited to speak on this topic, and enjoy helping others understand the technology, economics and environmental considerations of solar electricity. It’s exciting to bring more people into the conversation—to really stop and think: Where does that electricity come from that is always available in any outlet? How is it measured? How much does it cost? How can I turn sunshine into electricity? Come to think of it, which way does my house face? Where does the sun rise and set? What if, what if, what if...

The more of these conversations we have, I believe, the greater our shared understanding of energy and its role in our quality of life, economics, security, health and personal well being, as well as that of the planet. The challenges facing us are big and complicated; the more people participating in the conversation, the better our chances are of getting it right.

Pleased to meet you.