New EV charging stations support sustainability at Penn State Behrend

ChargePoint stations are the last charging option for eastbound I-90 drivers in Pa.
Penn State Behrend faculty member Michael Rutter charges an electric vehicle at a charging station on campus.

Michael Rutter, associate director of the School of Science at Penn State Behrend, charges his electric vehicle at a new charging station on the Behrend campus.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

ERIE, Pa. — The first time Michael Rutter, associate director of the School of Science and associate professor of statistics at Penn State Behrend, charged his Nissan Leaf on campus, a man strolling nearby stopped to watch. A plugged-in car is still unusual at Behrend. In fact, Rutter was the first person to use the college’s new electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, which came online in August.

Behrend is the first higher education institution in the region to provide EV chargers on campus. The stations are available to all members of the Behrend community, and to the public.

“That makes me extremely proud,” said Sherri “Sam” Mason, director of sustainability at Behrend. “This really encapsulates the role that higher education should play in providing a vision for the future and demonstrating how to embody it.”

The college has installed three charging stations: two in the Prischak parking lot, near the School of Science, and another in the Burke Center parking deck. Each station has two ports and is geo-located on the ChargePoint app.

“That we have these charging stations is a testament to Behrend’s commitment to sustainability,” said Randy Geering, senior director of business and operations at the college. He worked with Mason to have the charging stations installed.

“Randy understood the need to put the infrastructure in place so the conversion to electric would make sense,” Mason said. “Our conversation started five years ago, but when there was renewed interest in installing EV chargers University-wide, we were able to leverage that to move this project across the finish line.”

The EV chargers at Behrend were paid for with funding from a PA Driving Forward grant, Penn State Sustainability and Behrend campus resources.

In addition to the chargers at Behrend, Penn State has installed EV charging stations at several other Commonwealth Campuses, including Abington, Berks, Brandywine, Harrisburg and Great Valley, and at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center.

That list is likely to grow. Penn State Sustainability — formerly known as the Sustainability Institute — is currently exploring funding opportunities for the installation of additional EV chargers across multiple campuses, including Behrend. Given that the vast majority of Pennsylvania residents live near a Penn State campus, installing publicly available EV charging stations at campuses across Pennsylvania would serve the immediate needs of current EV drivers, while encouraging other drivers to transition to EVs.

Mason acknowledged assistance Behrend already has received from Penn State Sustainability, especially support from Lara Fowler, the organization’s director and the University’s chief sustainability officer.

“I am so grateful to Lara for recognizing the importance of sustainability at the Commonwealth Campuses and supporting us in these efforts,” she said.

Behrend’s three charging stations were installed in April and activated in August. They are listed on ChargePoint’s searchable map, making them visible to EV drivers everywhere.

“We’re now part of this network,” Mason said. “Today, right off Interstate 90, people can charge their cars while they go for a walk in Wintergreen Gorge or around campus.”

Behrend’s EV chargers have been used almost daily since the stations were activated. The chargers are the most convenient stations to Interstate 90 for at least 10 miles. They are the last stations in Pennsylvania for drivers headed east on the Interstate.

Lack of infrastructure and the distance between charging stations can deter drivers from transitioning to EVs. Having a place to charge vehicles in eastern Erie County benefits the broader community, Rutter said.

“These chargers will influence more people to think about an EV, and will encourage students, faculty and staff to drive EVs to campus,” he said.

The new infrastructure also will enable the college to purchase EVs when replacing fleet vehicles, Geering said. Mason sees that plan as having broad, positive effects.

“Some misconceptions we encounter about electric-powered engines is that they lack power and don’t work in cold climates,” she said. “The way to clear this up is not with data, but with experience. The more people are exposed to electric vehicles and maintenance equipment on campus, the more they will realize how well this technology actually works.”