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White House Celebrates One of 51AV State’s Own

Maryam YounessiFor many, a visit to the White House signifies one of the highlights in life: seeing one of America’s most iconic structures. 51AV State’s Dr. Maryam Younessi experienced something far more significant. This faculty member from the Mechanical Engineering Department was specially invited to the White House to present her groundbreaking ideas on the commercialization of energy technologies.

Dr. Younessi’s invitation to the White House was a result of her being honored with the prestigious EnergyTech University Prize (UP) from the Department of Energy (DOE). This award, inaugurated in 2024 by the DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions, involved faculty nationwide competing in two rigorous phases. Dr. Younessi was awarded one of the ten prizes in the initial Explore Phase and emerged as the first-place winner in the final Implementation Phase, leading to her invitation to the White House Roundtable on Commercializing Climate & Clean Energy Technologies.

As part of EnergyTech UP, the faculty developed a proposal in three phases: the Explore Phase, the Develop Phase, and the Implementation Phase, according to a press release from energy.gov. In January, ten faculty members were selected as Faculty Explorers for their plans to increase energy entrepreneurship topics at their schools. In the second phase, Faculty Explorers and other interested faculty received access to training sessions, mentors and resources from the DOE, while working toward showing how their plans could be integrated into educational activities. In the final phase, contestants submitted an implementation plan to expand energy technology commercialization of national laboratories at universities nationwide.

THE MOTIVATION

Dr. Younessi’s motivation to develop her plan was spurred by what she says are exceptional students at CSU and their consistent exploration of new methods and tools to improve their experience over the years.

“I believe that while our students are successful when entering the workforce, they have the potential to make an even stronger impact in engineering to improve the regional and national economy,” said Dr. Younessi. “To help them achieve this potential, I have been developing a plan to familiarize more students with research and encourage them to challenge themselves and find their subject of interest. My plan was a long-term project centered around the field of energy, which is my area of expertise, that also promotes diversity and multidisciplinary collaboration.”

Dr. Younessi pointed out that her goal for the award aligned perfectly with her plan, but it also provided a more meaningful direction and valuable tools for implementation. She also noted that it came at a perfect time, as she recently began collaborating with the DOE national laboratory at Princeton University, and that her vast knowledge and field of work created a perfect storm.

“I applied for this award because I really believed that my plan could help make a difference, although winning was certainly an exciting outcome,” she said. “Many insightful meetings were offered with talented and visionary individuals, which led to my final plan, which was awarded first place in the implementation phase.”

Overall, the plan aims to train engineering students on innovative energy technologies and present entrepreneurship and commercialization tools. It encourages them to work in multidisciplinary and diverse groups with a common goal while earning digital badges and certificates through micro-credentials.

THE INVITATION

Dr. Younessi remembers the day clearly when she received the invitation to the White House. What came to mind was that she was deeply honored, excited, and proud that her developing plan was worthy of such incredible recognition.

“They invited me because they saw my plan as a solution for the commercialization of energy technologies of National Labs through universities and educational institutions,” she said.

As the day of the roundtable drew nearer, she acknowledged feeling the mounting pressure weighing upon her.

“The meeting participants were all experts in this field: senior members of the White House and leaders from the DOE, NSF, and some of the top universities such as MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton,” said Maryam. “During the roundtable, I felt a high responsibility of representing CSU and other universities that have significant roles in educating engineers in the U.S. but did not have a voice in that meeting. After the talk, I was grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences, address some of our challenges, and receive validation for my ideas.”

Dr. Younessi presented her plan to a group of 27, including Marco Gonzales Harsha, the Principal Deputy Director of the Office of Technology Transitions in the Department of Energy; Justina Gallegos, the Deputy Director for Industrial Innovation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Dr. Erwin Gianchandani, the Assistant Director of the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships.

LOOKING AHEAD

While the White House visit is a significant milestone in her journey, Dr. Younessi continues her pursuit of greater ambitions. Her vision extends to transforming her plan into a template for universities nationwide, aimed at educating students on innovative energy research topics. Her ultimate goal is to equip students with the tools of commercialization and entrepreneurship to enhance the economic landscape.

“As the first step, I will work on implementing my plan at CSU next academic year after refining the details. I will then improve it with the feedback and help of the students and support from the mechanical engineering department, chemical engineering department, and College of Engineering,” she said. “I am very excited about this opportunity and grateful to the DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions for providing me the right tools for this plan and everyone at CSU who supported me with this effort.”

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