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Educating for Energy Security

Prof. Boettcher's students met with ExxonMobil's senior director of federal relations and CHASS alum Susan Carter (center) in Washington, DC.

It rules politics, our wallets, our peace of mind, and our future. Energy dependence on foreign countries impacts us in every way, every day. Dr. William Boettcher, associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Director of the TISS Energy and Security Initiative at NC State University studies energy security, which he defines as  “the reliability, price stability, and environmental impacts of various forms of energy production.”

“Four of our nation’s grand challenges in the 21st century are health and well-being, educational innovation, energy and the environment, and safety and security,” said Boettcher. “Energy security relates to them all.”

In the classroom, where he teaches U.S. foreign policy and U.S. national security policy, Boettcher works to raise his students’ curiosity about and knowledge of  energy security.  “I want them to develop an interest in investigating change,” he said. “Last semester, I had them read and discuss Michael Klare’s Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet. They developed posters and collaborated on components of a research paper. I also offered independent credit for extra research, discussion, and activities.”

Then Boettcher took a group of his students on the road. They traveled to Atlanta to participate in the biennial Sam Nunn Policy Forum focused on energy security, and later to Washington, DC, where they met with senior officials who work in energy security.

The students’ travel and participation were made possible in part through funds provided by the CHASS Dean’s Discretionary Fund and CHASS Matching Funds. Marcy Engler, the college’s executive director of development, said annual donors make such educational experiences possible for students. “We are very grateful to our donors, who understand just how invaluable these opportunities are for our students,” she said.

In Atlanta, the five NC State students teamed up to play the role of China during a simulation run in conjunction with the Nunn School. They adopted roles as head of state, foreign minister, defense minister, energy minister, and intelligence chief. Georgia Tech students played leadership roles representing Iran, the United States, the European Union, and Russia. During the simulation, each hour represented 24 hours in the real world. The teams were challenged to abide by the role and capability constraints of their country while producing realistic policies in response to the energy security challenges posed during the simulation.

In D.C., the students met with Susan Carter, the senior federal relations director for Exxon Mobil and a CHASS alumna. They also met with a Pentagon official who works in energy planning related to defense, and with a colleague at SRI International to discuss Saudi energy policy.

Back on campus, the students worked  on the Global Team Research Project, a year-long project that Boettcher said “broadly examined global energy security and considered the various trade offs involved in limiting energy dependence while curbing greenhouse gas emissions. I wanted them to examine ways to reduce the need for dependency on foreign energy by conducting research around energy independence, climate change, nuclear waste, and alternative fuels. These are concerns that are shared at the local, regional, national, and global levels.”

Political Science major Ashley Honeycutt counts herself lucky to have studied with Bill Boettcher. “The opportunity to help with original research at NC State has been a vital part of my undergraduate experience,” Honeycutt said.  “The simulation allowed me to approach what I learned in my classes in a more analytic way. The experiences were unique and have made me more competitive in the job market.”

Adrienne Yates, a senior in political science, said her participation confirmed her intentions to work in international affairs. “I have a new understanding and appreciation for the process and procedures of energy sustainability and the effects energy security have on domestic and foreign policies,” Yates said. “I feel so much more aware of our foreign policy challenges regarding energy security.”

By Kristie Demers, CHASS Communication Intern