Volgenau School of Engineering
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Electrical Engineering major leads initiative towards a more eco-friendly Mason

October 17, 2019   /   by Audrey Butler

“Nowadays our power grid is not built for renewable energy; it is built for power consumption.”

— Annam Khan, Honors College senior and Electrical Engineering major

Electrical Engineering major Annam Khan came to Mason looking for opportunities to make an impact. Just a couple years later, she’s the project lead of an initiative to put George Mason University on a self-sufficient microgrid.

Electrical Engineering major and Honors College senior, Annam Khan.

Electrical Engineering major and Honors College senior, Annam Khan, talks about her project to take Mason off the grid. Photo by Joshua McLean.

This year-long project has Khan, a current senior, and her team of six other Mason students searching for more efficient ways of generating power. Like most places, George Mason receives its energy from a large power grid, spending millions of dollars every year on utilities. “Ideally, we would like to isolate George Mason off of the main power grid,” Khan explains. “We would make our own energy and consume our own energy.”

Such a project requires finding ways to implement renewable energy sources on campus, and Khan and her team are looking to put up solar canopies for parking lots and solar panels for buildings on campus.

Further aiding the project, Khan’s team is partnered with large companies, like Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) and Dominion Energy, as well as overseen by faculty supervisor Dr. Liling Huang. “We’re lucky to have her,” says Khan. “She puts a lot of effort in connecting students with outside opportunities — every two or three weeks she’s bringing guest speakers to talk to us. She incorporates opportunities to network in her class.”

Alongside her work with microgrids, Khan found her passion in engineering, specifically power engineering, during her time in HNRS 410: Multidisciplinary Research Seminar, now offered as HNRS 361. This course focuses on developing individual research projects while working with students across majors, gaining new perspectives by learning to effectively sharing information and offer constructive criticism. Khan chose to research renewable energy integration.

“Nowadays our power grid is not built for renewable energy; it is built for power consumption,” Khan explains, describing the obstacle of incorporating renewable energy into a system that constantly needs power, even when the sun, or other natural resources, are not out to provide it. Finding a solution to this issue would require revamping current power grids to accommodate the peaks and falls of natural energy and provide huge environmental benefits. In the Multidisciplinary Research Seminar, Khan says, “you spend so much time working with people who aren’t necessarily engineers, and you realize you have to do something that matters for everyone."

Electrical Engineering major and Honors College senior, Annam Khan.

Photo by Joshua McLean.

Khan’s work on microgrids builds on her already-impressive professionalization work. Khan spent a couple years as part of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which makes an effort to connect students with engineering opportunities. Over the Summer, she was a Virginia Microelectronics Consortium (VMEC) scholar assigned to work at BAE systems; for her work, she was awarded the VMEC Gold Award. This Fall, she's continued her work at BAE systems, where she is mentored by Honors College alumnus Osaze Shears. 

The Honors College has helped Khan come to appreciate the value of connecting with others outside of engineering. Her work in one of the Honors College’s team-based applied research courses connected her with students from a range of majors as they conducted research for the Early Identification Program (EIP). EIP aims to help first generation prospective college students prepare for school. Khan’s class worked to develop a proposal about how programs like this can self-evaluate and offered a preliminary assessment of EIP and comparable programs.

“It was a good experience,” Khan says, referring to working with a small class to help another organization. “You have to be able to communicate effectively with other people and work effectively with other people. […] I now firmly believe in the power of multidisciplinary communication.”

Khan looks forward to the future and her further involvement in making a difference with power engineering.

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