Demand has never been higher for high-voltage electrical engineers. At Mississippi State University, aspiring students can safely explore the wonders of high-voltage electricity while benefiting from unparalleled learning, research and job-training opportunities in the Paul B. Jacob High Voltage Laboratory — the largest university-operated high voltage lab in North America.
Raising awareness of the high voltage engineering profession is a top priority for Wallace. In addition to his teaching and managerial responsibilities, he leads lab tours year-round for school groups of all ages and promotes the lab as a recruiting tool for prospective MSU engineering students.
The reality is that high voltage engineers are retiring from the workforce in large numbers, leaving a knowledge void that poses serious problems for many industries. The utility sector, one of the largest employers of electrical engineers, is struggling to meet growing power demand with aging, outmoded infrastructure.
Meanwhile, companies are working to develop and deploy smart grid technologies and other advancements to modernize the nation’s energy transmission system.
With the help of the high voltage lab, MSU is building a talent pipeline to fill a critical engineering niche. Not only does the lab host classes, but it also employs engineering students, which creates opportunities for aspiring electrical engineers to gain practical experience and connect with industries seeking high-voltage specialists.
With degree programs spanning bachelor’s to doctorate levels, MSU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has a long history of investing in high voltage engineering education, dating back to the opening of the high voltage lab in 1977.
In addition to serving as an education and research center, the lab test and evaluates new high voltage products, equipment and materials for a range of industries. It also offers seminars for students and faculty, short courses for engineers, graduate assistantships for high voltage research and support for undergraduate research. It’s even been used to recreate lightning strikes and other electrical phenomena for the “Strange Evidence” series on Science Channel and The Weather Channel.
Carvey Magee of Bassfield, Mississippi, was on track to become an electrical engineer when he toured the lab as part of an introductory engineering course. After the tour, he immediately applied for a job in the lab and eventually changed his major to high voltage electrical engineering.
“Working in the lab gives me real-world experience in all phases of product testing and research as well as exposure to potential employers,” Magee says. “We also have great professors who take the time to work with each individual student. They’ve always guided me in the right direction.”
Thanks to its comprehensive testing and research capabilities, the high voltage lab helps strengthen interdisciplinary partnerships within MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering. For instance, aerospace engineers are testing the effects of lightning strikes on airplanes and designing stronger, safer composite materials for aircraft construction; and researchers from MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems are developing tools to improve the electrical grid.
MSU and the high voltage lab are also benefitting from external partnerships that provide funding and support for equipment upgrades, high voltage research projects, and training programs for engineering students.
By matching a comprehensive engineering education with real-world experience, MSU is equipping students with the resources they’ll need to pursue rewarding careers in high voltage engineering — and unleash new technologies to power a growing world.