2/21/2020

AEP Foundation's $1 Million Gift Supports Engineering Outreach, Research, Facilities

Participating in the grant presentation were (left to right) Malcolm Smoak, SWEPCO President and Chief Operating Officer; Stacy Leeds, Vice Chancellor, Economic Development; Dr. John English, Dean, Department of Engineering; Dr. Alan Mantooth, Distinguished Professor, Electrical Engineering; Dr. Juan Balda, Electric Engineering Department Head; and Mark Power, Vice Chancellor, Advancement.

A $1 million American Electric Power Foundation grant to the University of Arkansas will support support electrical engineering outreach, improve undergraduate research opportunities and provide upgrades to student facilities.

SWEPCO and university officials gathered Feb. 20 for presentation of the grant.

“We are pleased to present this grant to the University of Arkansas’ Electrical Engineering department on behalf of the AEP Foundation,” said Malcolm Smoak, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer. “This outreach will inspire students to think and learn about engineering, and then enhance the engineering experience when they get to the University of Arkansas. It’s a great combination of initiatives.”

The AEP Foundation is funded by American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) and its utility operating units, including SWEPCO, which serves approximately 120,000 customers in Arkansas.

Support from the AEP Foundation will focus on three areas:

  • The College of Engineering’s K-12 Scholars Program
  • The Research Experience for Undergraduates project
  • Improving laboratory space in the Department of Electrical Engineering

Juan Carlos Balda, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering, said the gift would position the program for long-term growth.

“I am very excited about the opportunities that this gift will open,” Balda said. “Financial resources are always limited, so this gift will enable us to move faster with our ideas in terms of increasing enrollment in our department, recruiting talented undergraduates into our graduate program and having facilities that foster innovation and creativity.”?

The K-12 Scholars Program will receive $300,000. The program involves the University of Arkansas’ Power Group, a team of 14 electrical engineering faculty members focused on power electronics. The group plans?to?work with?students from kindergarten to high school to encourage them to pursue a career in electrical engineering, which Balda said is vital for the country’s future.

“The statistics show that the percentage of high school students selecting STEM fields for their higher education has decreased in past years,” Balda said. “Engineering as a whole is a critical field for the nation to continue having leadership in terms of innovation.”

The Research Experience for Undergraduates will also receive $300,000.?The funding will allow the program to?provide unique opportunities to undergraduate students by exposing them to real-world research activities.

The remaining $400,000 will support the renovation of laboratory space in the Department of Electrical Engineering, which will?benefit undergraduate and graduate students for years to come.

Those laboratory renovations will include the Senior Design Capstone Laboratory and the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission. The center enables researchers to investigate solid-state solutions for high voltage applications such as the electric power grid, including protection devices and energy storage applications.

The Senior Design Capstone Laboratory is a space for electrical engineering students working on yearlong projects during their senior year. The experience is an opportunity for students to apply the engineering skills developed throughout their undergraduate careers.

John English, dean of the College of Engineering, thanked AEP and SWEPCO for the support.

“This gift provides important opportunities for our students to excel in research and classroom learning, while also helping us attract future generations of engineers into our programs,” he said. “We’re tremendously grateful to our partners at AEP for this investment in the College of Engineering and the University of Arkansas.”

Senior engineering students describe how the AEP Foundation grant will be used to enhance electrical engineering.

The AEP Foundation, based in Columbus, Ohio, provides a permanent, ongoing resource for charitable initiatives involving higher dollar values and multi-year commitments in the communities served by AEP and initiatives outside of AEP’s 11-state service area.

The foundation focuses on improving lives through education from early childhood through higher education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, math and the environment and by meeting basic needs for emergency shelter, affordable housing and the elimination of hunger. Other foundation support may be offered to protect the environment, support healthcare and safety, and enrich life through art, music and cultural heritage.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3% of colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

SWEPCO's Malcolm Smoak (center) gathers with electrical engineering students and faculty after the presentation.