University of Vermont

College of
Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

Featured Faculty

Paul Hines

Dr. Paul HinesGlobal warming, carbon footprint, rolling blackouts — terms that are part of the growing lexicon of energy-related labels that are now seemingly everywhere — a testament to the center stage role that energy and energy policy are now taking on the world stage.

Energy is also a topic that fits well within the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences' "Spire of Excellence" in research known as Complex Systems Analysis. And it is the importance of energy and energy policy to the study of complex systems that brought Dr. Paul Hines to the College in early December 2007.

"What interests me most about complex systems science is the finding that the interconnections among and relationships between objects can be as important or even more important than the function of the object itself," says Hines. "The way that people and technology interact can result in unexpected system-wide outcomes. Understanding the dynamics of interconnection is essential to complex systems research in general and to electrical energy systems in particular. Understanding relationships among the components and agents in electrical energy systems is a major part of my research."

A passion for research and teaching

Hines, who is originally from Tacoma, Washington, comes by his interest in researching and teaching energy policy honestly. His father was a city administrator and his mom was a middle school vice-principal, putting him around education and policy his whole life. Says Hines, "My mom was passionate about students and education, and I picked up on that."

Professor Hines is looking forward to teaching and shares Dean Grasso's preference for hands-on, learner-centered methods. "The objective of teaching is learning, not the delivery of information. My goal as an instructor is to foster understanding and innovation in students — not merely deliver lectures," Hines says. "Student feedback is particularly important. Quizzes and exams need to be not just a method of grading, but a way for teachers to adjust along the way to ensure that students master the material. I have also found that learning is most effective when it is interactive in a way that engages their whole person in the topic. I learn best when I know why something is important and can assign meaning to the subject and can apply knowledge to problems that I see are important."

An interdisciplinary education

It's not unusual for young children to profess their desire to be an astronaut, and young Paul Hines was no exception. The major difference with Paul was that he maintained his interest all the way into high school. He seriously considered attending the Air Force or Naval academies, but eventually decided not to pursue the military route. In order to pursue his continued interest in technology and innovation, he decided to focus on engineering.

He did very well in high school, earning the school's top scholarship for academics and service, and participated in an International Baccalaureate program, where he gained an appreciation for foreign languages and international literature. After graduation, he enrolled in Seattle-Pacific University, a small liberal arts school with an engineering program.

"I chose Seattle-Pacific," Hines explains, "because it had a good engineering program where students had good relationships with the faculty, and because of the common core values within the university. The engineering faculty strongly encouraged us to use our technical skills to serve others, and I enjoyed being in an engineering program with a lot of liberal arts requirements in addition to my math and science curriculum."

Hines recalls that his favorite course was a philosophy class titled, "Values, Faith, and Meaning," which dealt with a wide range of ideas, from the foundations of enlightenment philosophy to theology and how it relates to Greek classical mythology. "We debated current issues in ethics and politics, providing a forum to think about issues from a wide range of perspectives. And the engineering classes were excellent. Somewhere in my junior year I decided that I could combine my desire serve others with my interests in technology by focusing on electrical energy engineering."

Arabic and a master's degree

Hines received his BS degree in Electrical Engineering in 1993 and immediately started working at Black and Veatch, an engineering and construction firm, designing electrical substations.

"I wanted to work there because the firm was involved in a lot of interesting international projects — unfortunately, I started grad school before I got to go overseas," Hines laughs.

After a couple years of substation design, he decided that he wanted to do more than design wiring diagrams. "So I quit my job, took a summer off, traveled the Middle East, studied Arabic, and then in the fall of 1999 began a master's program in EE with a focus on power systems at the University of Washington." Hines' main project was to design curriculum and software for an interdisciplinary capstone design course. The goal was to integrate power systems engineering with concepts from electricity markets and energy policy in a way that really engaged students in the subject matter and met changing ABET priorities.

Hines earned his master's degree in 2001 and then spent a year in Beirut, Lebanon, using his Arabic, developing a computer lab and teaching computer courses at a community center that offered various services to the poor in southern Beirut. It was in Beirut that Hines got to know his future wife, Vanessa who had been in Lebanon volunteering at the same organization.

The PhD and public policy

Hines started a PhD program in Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) at Carnegie-Mellon in 2003. He was attracted to the EPP program because it was interdisciplinary in nature, and because the program specifically focused on giving engineers the tools needed to inform important public policy problems.

"Since I was ready to get beyond pure engineering and gain some new skills, this was perfect for me," Hines says. He also liked that they were developing a new interdisciplinary research center that integrated scholars from business, policy and engineering to solve problems in the electricity industry.

After six months or so, he began working with a faculty member who had interesting ideas about the decentralized control of electricity networks. When the New York City blackout happened on August 13, 2003, the importance of this research work was solidified. "While my research was in many ways pure electrical engineering," Hines explains, "I liked the EPP program because it offered me the chance to work on and discuss a really wide range of issues — climate change, carbon control, advanced coal power plant design, wind power, energy storage — we were constantly grappling with new ideas and problems in the electricity industry."

In January 2007, Hines started working at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) while he finished his PhD. "Working at NETL allowed me to bridge between academic and industry research," says Hines, "and I received my PhD in August 2007."

Though he has been "Dr." Hines for a short time, Paul is very passionate about his chosen area of research. When asked to describe his research area, Hines says the following: "Broadly, I want to make electricity systems more reliable, efficient, and sustainable. I'm particularly interested in finding ways to get agents (human and computerized) to coordinate their actions such that they act well with respect to global system goals, rather than acting selfishly and myopically. I'm in the midst of writing two proposals to the Electric Power Research Institute, the first on the power system dynamic effect of large-scale wind power in the U.S.: What would happen if we were getting 20% of power from wind? What technical and policy issues do we need to address to make large-scale wind practical? The second is an extension of my PhD thesis work, which will attempt to show if we can get agents who are interacting over a communications network to control cascading failures before a large blackout results."

Settling in and welcoming all comers

Dr. Hines, his wife and young son are in the process of settling down in the Burlington area, and Paul is pleased that he can do his part to save energy by taking the bus to campus. He's also ready to begin his UVM-based research and teaching starting in January.

"I was very excited about the interdisciplinary focus of the College and the opportunity to work with a variety of scholars with a wide variety of backgrounds, with a unifying focus in Complex Systems," he says. "I plan to keep my door open and invite anyone to come by and introduce themselves! I'll be teaching electrical energy — introducing students to power sources, technology and markets, but I enjoy almost any topic of conversation, so come by and share your ideas."

If you find yourself in Votey Hall, stop by room 315 and introduce yourself to CEMS' newest rising star (especially if you speak Arabic!).