WSU Team To Train Doctoral Students In AI, Data Science To Meet Energy Needs

A Washington State University research team has received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for a fellowship to cross-train eight graduate doctoral students in artificial intelligence, data science and engineering.

The goal of the fellowship is to give the students the cross-disciplinary skills needed to address new challenges in an evolving power grid.

Changes to the ways power is generated mean the power grid is less centralized than in the past, said Anamika Dubey, WSU assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

That change in distribution has created a more complicated grid with an increased need for automation — and with it, new skills to operate the power grid.

Two main factors are driving that change: First, the transition to clean energy sources such as wind and solar limits power generation to specific locations. By contrast, coal or gas power plants can be built almost anywhere.

Second, power resources at individual building levels such as rooftop solar panels or chargers for electric vehicles have further distributed power resources.

The goal for the team is the train experts who will be able to operate and problem-solve on a power grid that uses a higher degree of automation.

“To work with this future grid, we require a workforce that is well versed both on the power system, they understand how the power grid functions, but at the same time, they also know data science, they also understand artificial intelligence, they also understand machine learning,” she said.

Assefaw Gebremedhin, project lead and associate professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, says a focus for the program is recruiting students from historically under-represented communities including women and people of color.

Of the team itself, Dubey and Gebremedhin are joined by professors Venera Arnaoudova, Noel Schulz.

Beyond the opportunity for marginalized students, recruiting people with different life experiences and perspectives is valuable for coming up with new and creative solutions to problems, Gebremedhin said.

“One of the sub areas this opportunity would focus on in software engineering,” Gebremedhin said. “And especially [the] human factors in it, where people’s understanding of code and when things are complex would play a role. And there is a definite need for diversity of ideas and perspectives.”

The three-year fellowship will begin this spring, and is currently recruiting its first group of students. Those interested in applying for the fellowship are encouraged to reach out now, Gebremedhin said.