Students visit White House to compete

A team of 10 USC students will compete at the White House to win $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy on Friday.

The team, made up of graduate student members of the USC Student Energy Club, entered the DOE-sponsored Better Buildings Case Competition in early February.

The competition centers on two student-created proposals for making an office building and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the U.S. Army’s flagship medical center in Washington, D.C., more energy efficient.

The team will see if four weeks of hard work will pay off Friday, when they present their project in front of a panel of energy experts in Washington.

Nineteen universities, including UCLA and UC Berkeley, are participating in the challenge.

Because the competition involves elements of architecture, engineering, finance and public policy, the students on USC’s team come from a diverse group of backgrounds.

Of the 10 team members, two are MBA students, one is a public policy student, three are architects and four are engineers.

Members of the team credit each person’s different area of expertise with their ability to compete.

“When we started working on this, we saw engineering students weren’t enough and that we needed help,” said Riddhi Ray, a graduate student studying electrical engineering. “Having people from different walks of life really helps.”

The ability to hand off tasks to someone with a better understanding of that particular topic also made them more efficient as a whole, said Elliot Weinstock, a graduate student studying business administration.

“The engineers did the energy model and passed off the outputs for me to find out what made sense financially,” Weinstock said. “We knew which person was better with each task.”

This ability to use everyone’s knowledge to the team’s benefit also helped them learn from one another, Weinstock said.

“At the end of the day, if you had to ask one of them about the financial aspects, they’d be able to tell you plenty about that,” Weinstock said. “If you asked me I would able to tell you about the engineering systems, which is something I didn’t know about before.”

Though the students on the team differ in their areas of study, their common interest in creating efficient, sustainable energy pulls them together.

“We really can’t keep doing things the way we have been … with natural resources running out, we just need to leave a better future for everyone and we need to start working toward that now,” said Nadine Mackenzie, a graduate student studying green technology. “That is what this competition is about, finding sustainable solutions for building projects.”

The idea of challenging the way society currently looks at saving energy cropped up as several students’ motivation.

“For me, it’s being able to tie everything together and show practically how you can make green energy work,” Weinstock said. “We’re starting off with, ‘To hell with LEED and to hell with the environment, we’re here to save you some money.’”

The professional quality that teams strive for in their proposals is also valuable to students who want to enter the field.

“In my classes, we are getting a lot of introduction to these high-level concepts, but through this competition, we have had to translate that into actual implementation,” said Sarah Dominguez, a graduate student studying planning. “I enjoy actually learning how these ideas of energy efficiency and water management can be put into use in real urban planning.”

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