W&J’s energy program director sees popular series powering more initiatives

W&J’s energy program director sees popular lecture series powering future initiatives

March 23, 2014
Diana Stares, director of the Center for Energy Policy and Management at Washington & Jefferson College, shows W&J’s Energy Index graph that charts the United States’ energy independence. Stares organized the Energy Lecture Series that promotes talks on energy subjects. The last lecture of the school year in the series “A Vision for Coal” is free and open to the public at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. - Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Energy, Diana Stares acknowledged, is a “very divisive” subject. Fossil fuels, renewables, drilling and fracking seem to have as many fervent supporters as fervent detractors.

As director of the Center for Energy Policy and Management at Washington & Jefferson College, Stares strives to provide a comprehensive spectrum through the center’s Energy Lecture Series. She seeks speakers on all energy forms, who will detail the goods and evils of their specialty — an information feast for students, faculty and the general public.

“I think people anticipate a more balanced view from W&J about what’s going on in energy,” Stares said.

They’re getting that from a program that not only is gaining momentum, but likely could be a power source for the center’s bigger plans.

The lecture series, in its second year, is engaging and energizing audiences in increasing numbers. Last month’s session, on water, drew a standing-room crowd to Yost Auditorium, and “A Vision for Coal” – the fifth and final lecture of the school year – may do the same at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

These mostly monthly lectures are free and open to the public, and are popular among all demographics – especially W&J undergrads. Lectures are followed by lively question-and-answer exchanges, then spirited one-on-ones between audience members and speakers. Some have been that engrossed.

“Our goal is to have a mixed audience with students, professors and the public,” Stares said. “Professors have been very supportive of the series. They encourage students to go.”

There have been five lectures each year, and Stares doubts there will be more. “We will do at least four,” she said. “Five makes it a little difficult to get students because there’s so much compeition for their time.”

EQT Corp. sponsors the lecture series through a grant from the EQT Foundation. The funding, however, doesn’t guarantee an appearance from an energy figure the school approaches.

“Some speakers will come only with a large speaker’s fee that I don’t have the ability to pay,” Stares said.

One student – Frank Galizia, now a senior – invited Gov. Tom Corbett last year, but he could not make it.

Lectures are but a part of the energy center equation.

“One of the center’s goals is to support a core energy program here,” said Stares, who was hired in October 2011 to supervise the center’s launch. That occurred the following April with its Energy Summit, featuring keynote speaker Susan Eisenhower, an energy expert and granddaughter of former President Dwight Eisenhower.

There are no energy majors or minors at W&J, and there is no graduate school. Stares, however, said that “certificate programs and master’s programs are under consideration in other subject areas” there. She added that programs in energy – “probably energy management” – are possible.

“We’re moving in that direction. The first step was opening the center.”

W&J’s Energy Index is another key initiative. “We’re going to promote it in the coming year,” Stares said.

Two professors created the index, which, according to www.washjeff.edu/cepm/energy-index, provides a “barometer for measuring the progress of the United States toward energy independence and energy security.”

The first graphic on the link breaks down, by presidential administration, the percentage of energy used nationally that is provided by domestic sources. It begins with Harry Truman in 1949, whose administration has the highest percentage, 95.2 – a full 22 percentage points above Barack Obama (73.2).

The figure declined under nine of Harry Truman’s 11 successors. There was a significant rise under Ronald Reagan (83.6, up from 77.9 under Jimmy Carter), and the Obama percentage is ahead of George W. Bush’s 70.1.

“We’re trying to secure a grant to do work on the index. We have to find a way to get additional funds,” said Stares, of Mt. Lebanon.

Transitional glitches accompany every career switch, but her move to W&J was fairly smooth. Being a virtual lifelong Pittsburger was a major factor.

Stares, 58, lived initially in Herminie, a hard-scrabble mining patch in Westmoreland County, before moving to Wilkinsburg, where she graduated from high school. She lived next to coal and was surrounded by steel in its heyday, when orange skies, fouled water and toxic soil were commonplace.

After four years at Hofstra University on Long Island, she returned home for law school at Duquesne University – and ultimately stayed home. Stares became an environmental attorney in the Pittsburgh office of the state Department of Environmental Protection, where she practiced for 30 years before arriving at W&J.

Energy, environment and industry have been among her calling cards for decades. And will continue to be.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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