CAUSE 2001

Policy debates—the students' idea—drove the second semester of CAUSE 2000. "There are lots of characters in the class, lots of different points of view," says student Kate Darby. "Some people are technical and some aren't. It's a diverse group, which makes it interesting," she says.

geothermal field with the caption embedded

At the start of the CAUSE 2000 seminar, the group designated 6 p.m. on Thursday nights as their weekly meeting time for presentations and debates about energy usage. Their meeting room is intimidating—the Myrna Hill and Fred Samuel Harris classroom in the basement of Deike building, named after the parents of Donald Harris, an alumnus who created an endowment to benefit CAUSE. It's a large conference room with executive-style chairs surrounding a huge U-shaped table, and it's wired to the hilt.

But after two weeks of bonding during their trip out west, the students are relaxed and comfortable with each other. During one weekly meeting in late September, Marybeth Phillis, a geography major, kicked her shoes off under the table while Shawn Blair, an environmental systems engineering major, and Terri Roberts, an environmental pollution control major, set up a digital video camera to record the debate. All the students were joking and laughing with each other and with instructors Semih Eser and Derek Elsworth.

They were meeting to discuss whether or not "Deregulation of the utilities will promote renewable energy use for electricity generation." The CAUSE students all know that deregulation—sometimes termed customer choice or open competition—would allow energy companies to sell their power directly to consumers. Consumers could then choose which company they wanted to supply their energy, much like they choose long-distance telephone providers. However, most states require consumers to use local utility companies, and that's called regulation.

Groups of students were assigned positions in the debate, and they were given 15 minutes to collect their thoughts. Many of the students' personal beliefs became quite evident midway through the debate: Nate Herman, a chemical engineering major, believes in deregulation of utilities, but as luck had it, he was forced to debate for regulation. Partially through his forced presentation, Herman blurted, "I'm sorry, I have to quit. I'm sorry." No one was taken aback by his abrupt conclusion. The debate simply continued with the opposing side's presentation, followed by an open class discussion with questions.

While personal passions are sometimes hard to put aside, the most important thing, says Elsworth, is to be able to "talk intelligently" about the issues. CAUSE is an interdisciplinary seminar—students from all majors are invited to apply—and when it comes to problem solving, diversity is a good thing. "Scientists usually look to define, engineers typically look to solve, and social scientists generally look for feasibility," Elsworth explains.

Near the end of the last semester of CAUSE 2000, Elsworth and Eser tried to cancel the Thursday night meetings so that the students could have more time to work on the final presentations of their group projects. "But they didn't want to stop meeting," says Elsworth, laughing. "It was like separation anxiety."

Editor's note: To see the online versions of the students' final presentations, visit the CAUSE 2000 Web site.

Last Updated May 01, 2000