The energy is running high as Penn’s newest dual-degree program is moving toward completion.
VIPER — the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research — was announced in the fall and is currently working to finalize its curriculum and admit its first freshman class ever. VIPER will combine courses from the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science to educate students on alternative energy resources.
The program has received 130 applications for the Class of 2016, according to Dean of Admissions Eric Furda. This number is very high, considering that the program has had “very little advertising,” said Engineering professor John Vohs, one of VIPER’s co-directors.
VIPER will be capped at 25 students per class.
“We knew that this would be a popular program in terms of applicants because energy is an issue that many people are interested in, especially in the sciences and engineering,” he said, adding that the curriculum will be formally proposed within the next month. “With these numbers, we can be more selective in admissions.”
The program is looking for “students who have the academics, the research and the capacity to conduct research at a higher level in both basic science and engineering,” Furda said.
Chemistry professor Andrew Rappe, the other program co-director, added that while research experience would be a plus, it is not required of prospective students.
“We want to recognize that people come from all over the world and that research opportunities are not equally distributed,” Rappe said.
In fact, according to both Vohs and Rappe, the developing curriculum will include a course for freshmen that teaches them how to do research. This will include teaching students how to read and evaluate scientific literature, formulate research ideas and pitch research proposals that are both achievable and interesting.
Rappe added that he anticipates many students will “surprise us with the depth of their pre-college research experience” and that because the program will be a cohort, “students will teach and learn from each other, and those without experience will benefit from interacting with those that have experience.”
Along with this introductory course in research, Vohs said the developing curriculum also plans to include courses that already exist at Penn in the basic sciences and energy-related technologies, with the possibility of creating new courses in the future.
Rappe added that there will also be a capstone senior project in which students will complete a thesis and present it to their peers in the program.
According to Vohs, there may also be several extracurricular activities associated with VIPER, such as energy seminars and research symposiums.
Overall, Rappe said he is “very excited about the extremely high quality of the applicants” he has seen.
“Students are applying with a broad range of backgrounds,” he said. “Many have a lot of AP credits, research experience and internships, and they all bring to the table something relevant to energy research and all bring a passion to participate in the energy research field.”
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