Coal may be king in West Virginia, but there are other members of the Mountain State’s royal family of energy Natural gas, wind, solar and biofuels are taking their places in the state’s energy portfolio, and industry is looking for graduates who see the big picture.

Two West Virginia University educators are crafting programs that foster those industry-ready graduates with the assistance of a $150,000 grant from the Benedum Foundation.

Fonda Holehouse and Gerard D’Souza, faculty in the agricultural and resource economics program in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, are developing a range of initiatives under an umbrella they call “EQuad.”

EQuad encompasses and synthesizes existing WVU offerings in the fields of energy, the environment, entrepreneurship and economics – the four “Es” that make up Equad. Holehouse and D’Souza are developing an undergraduate major specifically designed to train energy and regulatory industry employees, as well as budding entrepreneurs, with a keen sense of the challenges and opportunities inherent in providing power for an energy-hungry nation.

“This undergraduate program will help students understand the context that energy companies operate in, helping them to develop a balanced approach rather than a more polarized perspective,” Holehouse explained. “Our goal is to create a program that produces graduates who have the big picture about the energy industry.”

A State of Minds

Holehouse has developed a clear sense of the needs of the energy industry. Over the past several years, she’s led a summer travel course taking WVU students to energy sites in the region and introduced them to industry and regulatory professionals. She’s also formed strong ties to those professionals along the way.

The proposed new EQuad major will strengthen existing and foster new connections between WVU students and the energy industry and the federal and state agencies that regulate it. EQuad will result in the creation of an interdisciplinary major aimed at growing student interest in the expanding energy and environmental control sector in West Virginia and surrounding states.

“The proposed curriculum is rigorous yet flexible in that it can be tailored through appropriate coursework and internship training to best meet student interests, as well as the option to pursue further graduate education,” D’Souza said.

“The EQuad major will integrate existing courses from law, environmental protection, entrepreneurship, energy, finance, management, economics, communications, computer sciences, accounting, geology, forestry, agronomy, marketing, biology and engineering to provide a strong foundation for those students interested in pursuing a career in the energy and environmental sector, whether in private business, government or energy and environmental consulting,” said D’Souza.

Students will also be prepared to conceive, develop and implement entrepreneurial ventures of their own design.

EQuad not only meets the needs of the energy/environmental sector and the interests of students, it is wholly consistent with WVU’s 2020 Strategic Plan for the Future.

“EQuad transforms curriculum offerings in a manner that encourages innovation and provides students with skills necessary for a rapidly changing society,” said Holehouse.

In addition to encouraging interdisciplinary learning and scholarship, EQuad, will energize partnerships among academia, government and industry.

“By producing well-trained and knowledgeable graduates ready for employment and inspired to be innovative, EQuad will contribute to the goal of promoting sustainable economic development in West Virginia and beyond,” Holehouse said.

Finally, EQuad will be representative of WVU’s stated goal of promoting study in and mastery of science, technology, engineering and math, while placing those disciplines in an economic and entrepreneurial context.

The Benedum grant will support EQuad’s major components:

  • To expand the current Benedum-supported West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition from two categories – Lifestyle and Innovation and Hospitality and Tourism – to three. In coordination with the existing competition, this funding will launch an Energy and/or Environmental Entrepreneurship category.
  • To establish an advisory board consisting of key players from oil and natural gas, coal and alternative energy companies, federal and state environmental agencies and innovation and investment organizations to reflect the current needs of the industry and to assist with development of networking opportunities for students.
  • To build a strong internship and post-graduate placement program, featuring one summer spent in a rotation of various sites and roles, followed by a more focused internship experience.
  • To fund a lecture series that would be held in conjunction with the initial survey and capstone course, bringing in speakers to discuss watershed issues, small business development, litigation, energy production and environmental law.

“This grant provides WVU with the seed money to build a dynamic program that will boost energy entrepreneurship and innovation in a natural resource-rich state, as well as provide ways to connect prospective employers with a needed workforce,” said D’Souza. “Students are hungry to carve their own careers and innovation in the energy industry in the state.”

D’Souza and Holehouse have spent six months crafting the various components of the EQuad program and will now start the curriculum approval process through the WVU Faculty Senate. They expect all components of EQuad to be up and running within three years.

The Benedum family created the Benedum Foundation with the strict intention of focusing its grant-making in the two places they called home, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Since then, it has maintained its mission of providing support to West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania and to projects where it will have the greatest impact. Grants are made to support specific initiatives in the areas of education, economic development, health and human services, community development and civic engagement.

The EQuad grant was made to the WVU Foundation as part of A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University, a $750 million fundraising effort the Foundation is conducting on behalf of the University.

For more information on EQuad, please contact Holehouse at 304-293-5523 or or D’Souza at 304-293-5490 or



CONTACT: David Welsh; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

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