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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Mike Andrews

Mr. Andrews is a Senior Member of IEEE and is serving IEEE members in several capacities in the Phoenix Section, nationally and globally including Region 6 Director-elect and the IEEE Public Visibility, GOLD, N&A, IB&SC and Awards committees.  He has a strong commitment to STEM education programs, serving as President of the Smart Education Foundation, chairing the SMART Competition and serving as the Arizona Regional Coordinator for the National Engineers Week Future City Competition.

In this interview, Mike Andrews tells us about the SMART Competition for high school students and IEEE's involvement.

Question: What is the SMART Competition?

The SMART Competition is a high school Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) program that focuses on the Smart Grid and sustainable energy systems. Students who participate in the competition are asked to conduct an energy audit of a virtual gymnasium and then improve its design and energy usage. They use professional computer simulation tools provided by Bentley Systems Software. They are assisted by a teacher and by mentors with engineering credentials and real-world experience.

Question: What is the gym like?

The gym is an energy nightmare. The wall insulation is inadequate, windows allow too much heat gain, and there are many things that can be done to improve its energy use. Students will create solutions that modify most of the building materials and infrastructure and can even rotate the building and provide shadowing and light from multiple sources. The students are also encouraged to improve the school's power use by using biomass or solar, wind or water generated energy with the intent of adding power back onto their community's Smart Grid.

Question: How many years has the competition been taking place?

Pilot SMART Competition participants and IEEE volunteers beta tested the competition in schools across the country last year to work out any issues and to try out the original version of the simulation software. The trial was successful, but we encountered some surprises in the process. Some students had never seen power lines, or if they had, did not realize that they were used to provide power to the plug in the wall. Several students had very little understanding of the capabilities of using computer simulation or a computer simulation program to solve real world problems.

This year will mark the official launch of the competition, which will take place from now until the end of April 2012. Teams of three to four students from public, private, parochial schools, home-based schools, clubs and sponsored educational entities can register for the competition until late February, when the first of five deliverables are due. The cost is a low $100 per team.

Presentations begin on May 5 and the finals for the Grand Award take place in Philadelphia on May 15 at the same time as Bentley’s annual users' conference, also in Philadelphia.

Question: How are you promoting it?

The competition is designed to be global and incorporates the Internet, viral and social marketing techniques to publicize the competition. We are promoting it more actively in the U.S., but we have already had inquiries from Japan and Canada.

Within the IEEE we are talking about it in each region and with IEEE Technical Activities and Educational Activities leadership. The SMART Competition directly relates to at least 15 IEEE technical societies including Communications, Computer, Consumer Electronics, Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Industrial Electronics, Industry Applications, Intelligent Transportation Systems, Power Electronics, Power and Energy, Product Safety Engineering, Professional Communications, Reliability, Social Implications of Technology and Vehicular Technology.

Question: Who will be at the finals?

As the SMART Competition matures and becomes truly global, we will invite the top three teams from each of 10 regions worldwide to take an all-expenses paid trip to attend the finals. The top team from each region will make a presentation to competition judges for the Grand Award. The winner will take a trip to a location with an engineering focus that relates to the competition.

All the teams invited to finals will be eligible for other sponsored awards. We are still inviting companies that want to sponsor those awards to get involved.

Question: Are there any additional rewards to participating in the competition?

The winning teams will be asked to make a presentation to their school districts that offer some practical and actionable ideas for things that could be done on their own campuses to improve energy usage. Hopefully, some of those will be wildly successful and the school districts will be inspired to implement improvements at some of the schools.

The competition also gives the students access to tools and software that are used by professional engineers every day. As a result, students that have this experience will have a great opportunity to get part-time jobs or internships with engineering firms after the competition or over the summer.

Finally, members of the competing teams will be given IEEE student membership.

Question: Why are you doing this?

I think it is important on a couple of levels. STEM programs for high school students are an important pipeline for future engineers. We also need to continue providing students with accessible programs that they can afford after they get out of middle school and leave the Future City Competition middle school program behind. SMART Competition is accessible to everyone with an interest. The SMART Competition encourages students to dream, design, think big then monitor the impact of their imagination.

Question: Why is IEEE involved?

The competition exposes the students to at least 15 different IEEE specialties and gives the students a good look at what we do. Throughout the competition, IEEE has a lot of opportunity to showcase its work to all the people involved.

The competition also gets the kids interested in pursuing engineering as a career and gives them opportunities to mentor with IEEE members. The students that earn memberships will be able to continue their relationships with IEEE and our university members. Their experience will have a positive short-term and long-term impact on both the students and the IEEE.