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Second cohort of Pakistani students arrives at ASU to brighten country, lives

Sayfe Kiaei, director of U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy and a professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, welcomes the second cohort of Pakistani exchange students to ASU for the fall semester

Sayfe Kiaei, director of U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy and a professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, welcomes the second cohort of Pakistani exchange students to ASU for the fall semester. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

October 18, 2016

A second group of graduate students from Pakistan recently arrived at Arizona State University to study energy engineering as part of a larger effort to boost development of solutions for Pakistan’s growing energy needs.

ASU is leading the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy in a collaboration sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission.

An $18 million grant supports the project — the largest ASU has ever received from USAID.

ASU is coordinating the graduate student exchange program in conjunction with two leading Pakistani engineering universities in an effort to train students to be change agents in helping both countries improve their energy systems.

Support for USPCAS-E is part of $127 million investment by USAID to improve Pakistan’s agriculture and food security as well as access to water and energy.

ASU is the hub for the energy component of the project in partnership with the National University of Science and Technology – Islamabad and the University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar.

Sayfe Kiaei, director of USPCAS-E and a professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering believes that ASU is important to the program’s goals because, “The center is a link between ASU’s researchers and international development funding agencies as well as implementers who are working in developing countries worldwide.”

The partnership will further the long history of U.S.-Pakistani relations through the interaction of people, government, industry and academia in order improve energy stability in Pakistan.

Technology and policy

Technology and policy research are key to creating sustainable energy systems that will help enhance Pakistan’s economic potential.

The USPCAS-E program supports Pakistan’s economic development by strengthening the universities involved and by encouraging applied research.

Project topics range from research on battery technologies, photovoltaics and fuel cells to energy policy and energy-efficient buildings.

The range of skills that the exchange students acquire in these areas will help Pakistan meet its energy challenges, while equipping students to succeed in their future engineering careers.

“The students, who are very shy in the beginning, adapt to our laboratory working culture quickly,” said engineering professor Arunachala Kannan, the USPCAS-E technical lead for fuel cell and battery research. “They develop skills in communication, technical and social aspects during their stay working in the multicultural melting pot.”

Addressing the roots of Pakistan’s energy crisis

Pakistan is currently experiencing rolling power-system blackouts that can last up to 16 hours a day.

“Pakistan’s energy system is in crisis” said Clark Miller, director of the Energy Policy Lab at ASU. “To address that crisis requires a new commitment to energy policy, innovation and leadership.”

USPCAS-E is working to prepare young energy leaders to tackle that challenge.

“All of the students in the USPCAS-E programs, in Pakistan and at ASU, are receiving basic training in energy policy to ensure that they can contribute effectively as engineers to the energy policy process,” Miller said. “We are also providing specialized training in energy policy and the social dynamics of energy transitions to a small group of USPCAS-E faculty and students through semester-long programs here at ASU.”

Non-renewable resources like diesel fuel and coal are often imported by Pakistan, while hydroelectric and solar power remain underutilized as research, innovation and implementation in those areas continues to lag in the country. The USPCAS-E project aims to reverse that trend with the help of students in the exchange program.

The human component

Technology and policy are not the only key points of the USPCAS-E initiative. Cultural exchange, soft skills, networking within the industry and bringing disadvantaged students and women to the forefront of the energy field are all important components.

Saqib Sattar, who was a part of the first cohort of Pakistani students to begin studies at ASU in early 2016, spent a great deal of time in the Photovoltaic Reliability Lab. He has some advice for the recent cohort of students.

“Being an exchange student doing research at ASU means that you will be exposed to number of different [types of] equipment in the lab that will help you in learning many new things as well as getting hands-on experience,” Sattar said. “Also you will get the opportunity to meet with people from various cultures and will get to know about them and their culture.”

“So my advice to the current exchange students at ASU is to realize that this is a great opportunity for them not only to develop their technical skills but also soft skills, which are very necessary to be successful in your field, so they should make full use of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Hafiz Malik, a student in the new cohorts said he is “loving this tapestry of cultures” at ASU and is looking forward to heeding Sattar’s advice.

The new cohort includes more than twice as many female students compared to previous group of graduate students, bringing the total up to five women.

The group also includes one visiting female faculty member, Rabia Liaquat, who said the total student exchange experience benefits both countries and students economically and culturally, and enhances the professional development of faculty and students alike.

Through the networking opportunities the program provides, Liaquat said, “ASU can help us to interact with other universities for the future, and can connect us with university fellows in our field.”

Andrew Sarracino, the USPCAS-E international visits coordinator, helps to acclimatize the students to life in the United States. He said the female students “are paving the path for more young women in Pakistan so that they are empowered to help their country overcome its energy challenges.”

Graduate exchange student Nafeesa Irshad said there are “very few females in Pakistan in the energy field. We are going to take the lead.”

Irshad said of her experience at ASU thus far that “people are very supportive and helpful.”

Future cohorts of exchange students will arrive at ASU each semester through 2019 to help bolster the exchange of culture and research between the United States and Pakistan.

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