2020, Honors College
“Nowadays, the power grid is not built for renewables but for big, high-carbon power. It's something we need to change.”
— 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 part of a team working to put George Mason University on a self-sufficient microgrid
This year-long project has Khan, a current senior, and a team of six other Mason students searching for more efficient ways of distributing power. Like most places, George Mason receives its energy from a large power grid, spending large sums of money on electricity from regional utility companies. “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 would facilitate the implementation of renewable energy sources on campus. With this in mind, 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 has had the opportunity to meet and network with representatives from large companies, like Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) and Dominion Energy.
The project is 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.”
Khan found her passion for understanding how to integrate renewable energy into the grid 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, the power grid is not built for renewables but for big, high-carbon power. It's something we need to change,” 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."
Khan’s work on microgrids complements a well-rounded resume. Khan spent a couple years 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.
Strudent profile by Honors College Communications Intern Audrey Butler