Torchlight | Fall 2015

Power engineering lab prepares students for workforce

Power engineering lab

Students perform real-time simulations using state-of-the-art equipment provided by community partners Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Power Pros.

Imagine life without the ability to use cell phones, computers and lights. Our daily existence would be dramatically different if the power grid went down.

“The power grid is one of the most fundamental foundations of modern day societies,” says graduate student Aaron Wernecke ’13 (Electrical and Electronic Engineering). Wernecke is studying relay protection, which safeguards elements in the power system from extensive damage and minimizes power outages and interruptions in the electrical service from utility providers.

“If something goes wrong in the power system, relay protection ensures that it will not result in a catastrophic failure that could affect thousands of people.”

In October, with support from industry partners, Sacramento State opened a new Protection Relay Testing and Real-Time Simulations Lab, designed to produce power engineers who will protect expensive and essential equipment such as transformers and transmission lines.

“The lab provides hands-on experience in addition to theoretical concepts,” says Mohammad Vaziri, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. “Students will understand the schemes and equipment used in the protection of a power system.”

Vaziri says the lab is a dream come true. The aspiration began nearly 20 years ago when he began his work toward his doctorate in electrical and electronic engineering at Washington State University, the only other university on the West Coast with a protection relay-testing lab. After he saw their facility, Vaziri wanted one for Sacramento State.

The lab was made possible through corporate partnerships with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Power Pros. Schweitzer donated a number of relay systems worth more than $80,000. Power Pros donated more than $20,000 in labor and materials to construct the central console, as well as new chairs and other classroom furniture.

A conversation between Vaziri and Jimmy Burmeister, owner of Power Pros, ignited further possibilities for their affiliation.

Power engineering lab

LEFT: Demetrios Tziouvaras from Schweitzer Engineering (left) and Jimmy Burmeister from Power Pros (right) join President Nelsen and Professor Mohammad Vaziri during the lab’s grand opening, where they were honored for their companies’ support.

“Jimmy knew we had plans to educate students about the kind of work his company does, and that we develop future professionals. That was a selling point for him,” says Vaziri. “Now we have two students working for Power Pros. If we continue to produce more capable students, that’s an incentive to maintain and grow our partnership.”

Wernecke is one of those students.

“The lab has been an excellent opportunity for my career since I was able to be involved in the construction of a lab that will be a part of the University long after I’ve gone on my way,” Wernecke says. “It also acts as a cooperative effort between industry and educational institutions that is key to helping students take the next step out of the classroom and into the workforce.”

Vaziri says students can reference the lab experience in job interviews and discuss it with industry professionals who are looking for well-rounded graduates.

“It will make our students marketable and stronger candidates for jobs. System protection is a specialized area within the power systems engineering field. Our students will have a better understanding and already shown an interest.” says Vaziri.

Wernecke agrees.

“The lab gives students a better understanding of how relay functions work and the proper methods used to test them. We tried to condense the most important aspects from our work experience and included those in the lab procedures to give students a head start when they enter the protection engineering field.”

Next up on Vaziri’s list: extend the lab beyond University use. He says he hopes to make the lab available for companies to train their personnel.

To make a gift to the College of Engineering and Computer Science, contact Laurie MacIntosh at (916) 278-2577.