Adventure and Wind Energy: Passions of a University College Student

by ABBY TOMLINSON

April 28, 2011

For William Courtney, 21, career-defining monoliths dot the Texas countryside between his hometown of Austin, Texas and Lubbock. The commute between the two cities lead to an insatiable drive for knowledge within the mechanical engineering major; he aims to understand the inner workings of the wind turbine, and then improve it.

This interest led him to University College at Texas Tech University, home to the Texas Wind Energy Institute (TWEI) and five professors who are experts in the burgeoning field of wind energy. The college currently offers two degrees and an undergraduate minor in the subject, and Courtney takes advantage of all of the benefits the program has to offer.

"After I realized that's a really good field to get into, and it's really interesting to me, I just kind of tried to get as involved as I could," Courtney reflected. "My senior year is when I really got involved with wind energy at Tech. I started doing undergraduate research and joined the student association here, the Wind Energy Student Association, and I've just been trying to do everything I can with wind energy."

Courtney came to University College to seek courses in wind energy, but he has since moved beyond the requirements of a typical minor. He is currently enrolled in a graduate-level wind energy course and he is working on an undergraduate research project which, if successful, could result in a meaningful change in the wind turbine emergency shutdown process.

With his May 2011 graduation date impending, Courtney has some solid plans for his future. This summer, he will stay in Lubbock at Texas Tech and work with professors to convert courses for use in Blackboard, in addition to his research pursuits. He also plans to spend three weeks in Greenland, during which he will take a course on sustainable energy in the arctic. In the fall, he will relocate to Denmark to pursue a Master of Science in Wind Energy at Denmark Technical University.

Denmark Technical University is a leader in the field of wind energy innovation and the efforts have paid dividends; the country of Denmark fulfills 20% of its electricity needs with wind energy. Courtney discovered his affinity for the region when he studied abroad in neighboring Sweden.

"I just really loved the country, the culture and the people. And I just really wanted to go back there and learn something new. Maybe learn some Danish. And it just happens to be a country that is famous for wind energy as well," Courtney said.

While in Sweden as part of Texas Tech's study abroad program, Courtney took courses in mechanical engineering and had the opportunity to travel in 14 different countries, including Germany, France, Belgium, Latvia and Italy. Conveniently, many residents of Denmark also speak English fluently, so even though he was alone for most of his sight-seeing, he was able to travel through the country with ease. While in Sweden, he formed valuable international friendships among the 4,000 international students studying at Lund University.

"I went there not knowing anyone on pretty much the whole continent," Courtney described. "Everyone else was in the same situation. We all got there and didn't really have any friends, so everybody was really easy to make friends with."

When he returns to the region in August, he will begin a 2-year master's program that will prepare him for his ultimate career goal - designing turbines. In the meantime, he will consider career opportunities in off-shore wind energy. Off-shore wind turbines are an interest area for Courtney, but career prospects in the field are limited in the United States because there are few off-shore wind energy efforts in the U.S. He would have to more permanently relocate to Europe to pursue the interest.

Courtney said he originally chose Texas Tech University to experience life in another part of Texas, and it turned out to be a perfect move for him.

"It's a great program," Courtney said of Tech's wind energy curriculum. "All of the professors are really knowledgeable. They really know what they are talking about. It's kind of a small program right now so it's really easy to get to know everyone."

In his spare time, Courtney devotes his attention to music, another one of his passions. He plays a variety of instruments including the banjo and guitar and enjoys listening to music from a number of genres. He said he used to play in bands but continues to play as a fun hobby.

"I'm the kind of person who can't pick favorites of anything - I guess I like variety so it's hard to say just one. But I really like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Miles Davis. I actually used to play in jazz bands in high school. I play trombone, too," Courtney said.

As an individual with a passion for world travel, Courtney is excited about his immediate future. Also exciting was this years' trip to NASA. He traveled to the headquarters to present a design project, a stretcher for astronauts on the moon, that he and his teammates have been working on all year.

His passions for wind energy and mechanical engineering make him a formidable environmental ally, and his desire to protect the planet fuels his aspiration to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of wind energy.

"Part of it is that I am a little bit of a hippie, and I like the idea of helping the environment," Courtney explained. "Energy is just a really important part of everyone's lives and to be able to provide it in a cleaner way is a really important field.

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