Q&A: Texas Southern University leading the way in the energy transition

Michelle Penn-Marshall, who serves as vice president for The Texas Southern University Division for Research & Innovation, answers questions from the Houston Energy Transition Initiative. Photo via

Launched in 2022, The Texas Southern University Division for Research & Innovation is spearheading the institutions efforts in attaining the highest-tier classification for research in higher education institutions.

Michelle Penn-Marshall, who serves as vice president for the division, recently sat down with HETI to talk about the university’s mission to become a leader in research and the long-term goals for engaging students in the energy sector and advancing the energy transition.

HETI: Can you give our audience an overview of the Division of Research & Innovation at Texas Southern University?

Michelle Penn-Marshall: The Division of Research and Innovation is the latest in Texas Southern University’s (TSU) efforts to attain the highest-tier classification for research in accordance with the Carnegie Classification of Research Institutions of Higher Education. As an elite Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Carnegie Classified R2 research institution, TSU provides meritorious research and innovation for the world-renowned Texas Medical Center and greater Houston community. The legacy of TSU is one of public service while responding to the needs of our stakeholders and community partners. The solutions and measured outcomes created through our research transforms high-performance computing, autonomous vehicles, energy, environmental and climate justice, cancer prevention, drug discovery, emergency preparedness and responsiveness, criminal justice, nutrition, transportation, affordable housing, health disparities and more. Maintaining our R2 status on a trajectory toward R1 status along with bringing in top talented scholars, researchers and principal investigators for our division will fortify our commitment and mission of providing data-driven solutions and outcomes for urban communities and beyond.

HETI: In partnership with HETI and several regional universities, Texas Southern University was recently named a semi-finalist for the National Science Foundation Engines grant. What role will TSU play in the program and how will your efforts help to advance the energy transition?

MPM: The Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI), in partnership with five regional universities, including Texas Southern University, the University of Houston, University of Texas at Austin, Rice University and Texas A&M University, were recently named semifinalists for the National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engine (NSF Engines) program. Texas Southern University is recognized for embracing challenges and finding innovative solutions to contemporary issues and problems facing urban communities – more specifically traditionally marginalized and underrepresented stakeholders. As a catalyst for urban transformation, TSU is equipped to assist the region create a sustainable future in a manner that advances social equity and economic growth and sustainability. Investigating in areas that devise solutions toward producing more natural gas, a lower carbon alternative to coal and a complement to renewables. Collectively, we can all play an integral part to advance lowering carbon emissions in partnership with other like-minded researchers, institutions and collaborators.

HETI: The demand for green jobs seems to outpace the number of professionals with green skills. What are some ways that TSU is developing and enhancing students’ workforce skills to engage the energy workforce?

MPM: The Houston Energy Transition Initiative has the potential to advance our regional workforce across all skill levels ensuring an equitable energy transition throughout the region. This becomes out time to showcase our knowledge, skills and abilities in becoming the global exemplar for HETI. It is my charge to position TSU prominently in pursuing a comprehensive approach that will advance equity in innovation and entrepreneurship programs required for a just energy transition for all, including others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and those areas affected by environmental and social injustice in the region.

We can enhance students’ workforce skills by:

  • Aggressively participate in national events and programs that increase awareness of energy careers
  • Intentionally nurture partnerships with organizations and agencies that can support a diverse talent funnel that creates meaningful skill development for our students
  • Strategically assess the creation of certificate programs for energy careers and pathways at TSU

HETI: How can community partners, organizations and energy tech giants help to close the green skills gender gap?

MPM: Research and data recognize that women are over-represented in sectors that traditionally have paid less and don’t have the opportunities for pay progression and/or advancement. However, diversity of perspective and world views are essential for innovation and technological progression. Employers, partners, and energy companies should find ways to deliberately expose young women to sustainable career paths and role models. Ideally, this exposure and learning process must begin with young girls during the middle school years. Opportunities might include, but are not limited to, arranging for female engineers (It is paramount that we embrace and appreciate the governance of difference in all aspects in these emerging energy and technology fields and workspaces. We must nurture and celebrate the gifts and contributions from women in these spaces from all races, cultures and communities, but more specifically from underrepresented and marginalized groups – representation matters, it is of prime interest to our national security and future competing in a global marketplace.) to give public testimonies in schools or community settings and increase the opportunities for dedicated internship or apprenticeship programs for career-ready females. The ideas for prospects for exposure and learning are infinite.


This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit

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ACCEL has opened applications for next year. Photo via Getty Images

Calling all cleantech startups founded by innovators of color — an inclusive accelerator program is now accepting applications.

Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL, has opened applications for it's second cohort. The program — from Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space — provides access to funding, networking connections, incubation space, mentorship, resources, and opportunities for energy tech founders of color for a year.

“ACCEL is one of the most impactful, meaningful programs we’ve run to date,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. “We are eager to expand upon the great success and momentum of year one, and to welcome another incredible cohort of BIPOC-led startups that are developing much-needed climatetech solutions. We’re equally committed to helping these companies accelerate and deploy their solutions, while also helping to build a more diverse, inclusive climatetech workforce—ACCEL sits at the nexus of those two critical efforts.”

The program, supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, accelerated six startups this year — Active Surfaces, DrinKicks, EarthBond, florrent, frakktal, and SpadXTech.

“The ACCEL Program directly aligns with our mission to ensure that climatetech jobs and wealth creation opportunities are available to all residents of the Commonwealth,” Emily Reichert, CEO at MassCEC and former CEO at Greentown, says in the release. “We are excited to see the second round of this important program, with our Equity Workforce Fund support fostering a partnership between Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space aimed at accelerating the growth of minority and women business enterprises in Massachusetts.”

ACCEL, which doles out $25,000 in non-dilutive grant funding to each participant, is also supported by Boston-based Barr Foundation and provides programming from VentureWell, a nonprofit with expertise in climatetech.

“Through our partnership with Greentown and VentureWell, we are able to put our respective strengths together to create an ambitious program to bolster founders of color in climatetech and propel innovations that benefit communities most impacted by climate change,” Kerry Bowie, executive director and president of Browning the Green Space, says in the release. “Opening applications for Year 2 of ACCEL is an important milestone in strengthening critical support for traditionally excluded entrepreneurs in our communities.”

Applications for ACCEL are open until January 5, 2024. While entrepreneurs from anywhere can apply, preference will be given to applicants in Greater Boston and Greater Houston, where Greentown’s incubators are located.

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