Developing Broader Impacts through Community Engagement

Two words, community and engagement, simply and separately defined by Mirriam-Webster as a unified body of individuals with common characteristics and interests and an arrangement to meet or be present at a specified time and place, respectively. Alone, these words have apathetic meaning, yet when combined, they create a dynamic and evolutionary term. An expression that embodies Notre Dame’s culture and identity and characterizes widely its institutional commitment for the common good. 

Community engagement is nothing new to Notre Dame, as it has formed the foundation of a long-standing tradition for decades to engage students in service throughout the surrounding community and beyond. In fact, over 80% of students participate in some form of service during their undergraduate career, and approximately 10% of each year’s class spend a year or more in full-time volunteer service after graduation. Faculty also play an integral role in community engagement. Many of them are closely affiliated with their local schools, churches, and organizations, where they are able to share their research expertise and knowledge to benefit these specific groups and individuals. These engagements have enabled Notre Dame to make significant contributions to the community at large and help provide resources that may not otherwise exist.

As the University strives to engage in external collaborations that extend and deepen Notre Dame’s impact, so too is ND Energy working to align its activities in support of this goal. The following short stories demonstrate our commitment to providing unique opportunities for students, faculty and staff to engage community members in programs that inform participants about the energy research at Notre Dame and other, key energy topics.

ND for the Environment

On Saturday, January 7, ND Energy participated in the Alumni Association’s roll out of “ND for the Environment”. While undergraduate students were still home on break, alumni and friends of the University spent time on campus for the annual “Winter Sports Weekend.” Before heading to the men’s basketball victory over the Clemson Tigers, 250 visitors stopped by the Jordan Hall of Science to learn about energy research on campus and other sustainability efforts. Graduate students affiliated with ND Energy provided hands-on activities related to their solar and fuel cell research in addition to a demonstration of separation techniques and their usage to create new materials. The ever-popular “fruit-smoothie bike” gave visitors the chance to transfer their energy to a blender that made for a delicious and healthy treat. Graduate students were Andrew Schranck, Anshumaan Bajpai, Erik Foster and Tyler Spano.

Science Alive!

On Saturday, February 4, ND Energy helped the St. Joseph County Public Library celebrate its 25th annual Science Alive! event in a big way. With ten affiliated labs participating, ND Energy overflowed from its traditional, single “energy” room out into the lobby and provided educational hands-on exhibits for over 850 members of the community. While the activities were aimed at younger participants, posters and researchers answered many questions about their work and the future of energy to adults. The ND Energy affiliated laboratories that participated were those of faculty members Kyle Doudrick, Haifeng Gao, David Go, Prashant Kamat, Abigail Mechtenberg, Svetlana Neretina, William Phillip, Jennifer Schaefer, Bill Schneider, and Jonathan Whitmer.

Junior Parents Weekend

On Saturday, February 18, junior engineers and their parents were invited to an open house in Stinson-Remick Hall. Several groups took a self-guided tour of the clean room, chapel, classrooms, and laboratory space located on the first floor. About 35 participants formed smaller groups that were escorted to the Peter C. Burns laboratory on the third floor to learn more about nuclear research and the materials science of actinides.

Solar Series

In response to a student survey where over 90% of the respondents said they were interested in learning more about solar energy, ND Energy hosted a 4-part series, starting on October 4 with a panel discussion during the 2016 Notre Dame Energy Week. Prof. Randall Ellingson from The University of Toledo, Nicholas Strevel from First Solar, and Joseph Karrasch from American Electric Power, presented “A Solar Panel: Making Solar Power a Reality” and discussed the technological, business, and policy sides of the future of solar power.  

Next was “Got Married, Bought Solar: Which Was the Bad Decision?”. On November 14, George S. Howard, PhD, professor emeritus in Notre Dame’s Department of Psychology, explored the complexities of convincing ourselves to invest in solar as individuals and as a society.  

On February 8, Dr. Subhash L. Shinde, the newest member of the ND Energy team, presented “Concentrating Solar Power”. Dr. Shinde shared the knowledge he gained working at Sandia National Laboratories and addressed the different CSP technologies and plants currently operating in the U.S., highlighting the research and development activities to increase efficiency and reduce cost and risk.  

The fourth and final of ND Energy's solar series, Dr. Prashant Kamat, Rev. John A Zahm Professor of Science in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Radiation Laboratory, and Concurrent Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will discuss the next generation of photo​voltaics and his research in nanostructure architectures​for energy conversion and environmental remediation. Dr. Kamat’s presentation is scheduled for March 22 at 4PM in the Radiation Laboratory Auditorium.  

What’s It Really Like?: Energy Careers

Throughout the month of February, undergraduate students met with energy professionals to learn about everyday life in their careers, how they got to their current positions, the current climate in their fields, insights into the future, and anything else students wanted to ask. Designed to be small, informal group sessions, students were able to engage more deeply with each of the following professionals:

  • February 1 - Lisa Zyonse, Pennie Waggener, and Jordan Ridenour: Consumers Energy
  • February 2 - Margaret Merkel, Naval Nuclear Lab, and Sean McCloskey, Reactor Safety
  • February 3 - John Kinney- Director, Advanced Technology Business Development, General Electric Aviation
  • February 7 - Therese Dorau, Director of Sustainability, City of South Bend
  • February 10 - Vince Barletto, Sr. Project Engineer, Cypress Creek Renewables
  • February 13 - Subhash L. Shinde, Associate Director of ND Energy; formerly Research and Development Manager at Sandia National Labs and Senior Scientist/Engineer at IBM
  • February 24 - Thomas Degnan, Tony and Sarah Earley Professor of Energy and the Environment
  • February 27 - Katie Otterbeck- Campaign Organizer at Impact/Environment Colorado


ND Energy is a University Research Center whose mission is to build a better world by creating new energy technologies and systems and educating individuals to help solve the most critical energy challenges facing our world today. For more information, visit the ND Energy website at or contact Barbara Villarosa, Business and Communications Program Director, at or 574-631-4776.