Forging a Proficient Workforce

The Grainger Foundation enables the Power and Energy Systems group in Electrical and Computer Engineering to recruit top students and provide advanced training in the design of electric power systems.

The practical-minded visionaries at The Grainger Foundation understand the importance of hands-on instruction for engineering students.

The longtime partnership between Grainger and Purdue has been mutually satisfying:

  • Faculty in the Purdue Power and Energy Systems group teach students to design and fabricate electric machines.
  • The Grainger Foundation supports the education of a technically proficient workforce.

When Professor Steve Pekarek, an expert in electrical power and energy systems, joined Purdue's College of Engineering faculty in 2004, it seemed only natural that he would bring with him The Grainger Foundation partnership that he pioneered while at the University of Missouri-Rolla. The Grainger Power and Energy Devices and Systems Student Awards Program, sponsored by The Foundation, was integral to the relationship.

The financial awards range from $500 to $5,000 and are available to both undergraduate and graduate students. To be eligible, students must pursue electric power engineering by taking at least four courses in the Power and Energy Systems research area in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).

Our primary job is to develop proficient students, and the Grainger Power and Energy Devices and Systems Student Awards Program helps us at the critical first step: attracting outstanding students."

STEVE PEKAREK
Professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

"The award program has been invaluable in attracting outstanding students to study power and energy," Pekarek says. "Many have been selected to pursue undergraduate research projects. This enables further faculty and student engagement, which has led several students to pursue graduate degrees."

For decades, Purdue has been a national leader in power and energy research - a resurging field with the world's growing interest in cost-effective, environmentally friendly energy. Purdue's Power and Energy graduates have been named distinguished alumni, have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering and have assumed leadership roles in the industry.

With so many Purdue Engineering students eager to learn more about electrical power systems, The Foundation elected to fund two new research laboratories in Seng-Liang Wang Hall. These laboratories incorporate unique, specialized equipment that allows students to gain hands-on experience designing and fabricating power machinery.

The newly opened Wang Hall, with its state-of-the-art facilities, is integral to the growth of the College of Engineering and to strengthening its education and research areas, including ECE’s Power and Energy Systems program.

In the Grainger Power Magnetics and Fabrication Laboratory, students design and construct magnetic components used in electric motors, generators, transformers and power electronic circuits. In the Grainger Energy Conversion and Microgrid Laboratory, students design future electrical power systems, including DC systems (as opposed to the traditional AC systems).

In April 2015, retired Navy Admiral William Hayden, who works for The Grainger Foundation, visited ECE's Grainger Lab facilities as part of a two-day celebration highlighting The Foundation's support of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

"The Foundation elected to support the establishment of laboratories in Wang Hall based on a historical interest in electric machines," Hayden says. "These laboratories are probably the most advanced instructional facilities of their kind in the country."

Practical Applications

Faculty in the Power and Energy Systems group helped cut the ribbon on the Grainger Lab facilities during a two-day celebration in April. (From left) Scott Sudhoff, the Michael and Katherine Birck Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; retired Adm. William Hayden of The Grainger Foundation; Steve Pekarek, professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Dionysios Aliprantis, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Faculty in the Power and Energy Systems group helped cut the ribbon on the Grainger Lab facilities during a two-day celebration in April. (From left) Scott Sudhoff, the Michael and Katherine Birck Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; retired Adm. William Hayden of The Grainger Foundation; Steve Pekarek, professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Dionysios Aliprantis, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Engineering students at other universities typically must contract the fabrication of their designs to outside machine shops. Purdue's Power and Energy students, however, actually participate in the construction of their designs. They come to more clearly understand the practical aspects of engineering design versus fabrication, such as the impact of manufacturing tolerances and material imperfections.

Many academic institutions encourage research on theoretical aspects of engineering problems. But Pekarek explains that many of the toughest engineering problems are discovered in the testing stages, when researchers observe that a system does not behave exactly as expected. In the Grainger Labs, students have a chance to bring their designs to fruition and gain experience correcting their models and assumptions.

"Our primary job is to develop proficient students, and the Grainger Power and Energy Devices and Systems Student Awards Program helps us at the critical first step: attracting outstanding students," Pekarek says. "The Grainger Laboratories then allow us to better develop their analytical and experimental skills so that they can be world-class engineers."

Support of the electric power industry through grants to institutions like Purdue stems from the basic tenets of The Grainger Foundation and the passion of its founder for electric motors. These grants support young engineers with new ideas that will change and advance the industry.

The Grainger Foundation, an independent, private foundation based in Lake Forest, Illinois, was established in 1949 by William W. Grainger, founder of W.W. Grainger Inc.

To lend your support to initiatives in Electrical and Computer Engineering, contact Andrea McIntyre, senior director of development, at 765-494-9945 or AJMcIntyre@prf.org.