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When engineering and business collide

Thursday, December 22 2016 12:00am

Students utilize their expertise to further Ohio University’s sustainability program

By Holly Moody

Whether you’re a business analyst or industrial engineer, it’s imperative to understand how to effectively collaborate with those that possess a set of skills unlike your own to effectively plan, execute and deliver a project.

At OHIO, undergraduate students in the College of Business and Russ College of Engineering and Technology are mastering the art of interdisciplinary collaboration while helping the University meet its sustainability objectives.

The Robert D. Walter Center for Strategic Leadership and T. Richard and Eleanora K. Robe Leadership Institute teamed up to launch the Eco-Challenge, an eight-week intensive competition where students create and pitch investment proposals for sustainable infrastructure on campus.

Reflecting on his own college experience and career journey, Dan Squiller, '79 Russ College of Engineering and Technology alumnus and current CEO of Verengo Solar, a provider of residential and commercial solar systems headquartered in Torrance, CA, was inspired to implement a program where students from both majors are forced to step outside of their respective comfort zones to work as a team, create and present an investment proposal focused on sustainability.

“The Select Leaders and Robe Leadership Institute are two of the OHIO's premiere leadership programs and through my involvement with both, I noticed a lot of overlap” said Squiller. “Through my experiences as both a technical and a business leader, I knew there could be real benefits to students if the programs could intersect with one another. When business graduates land a job with a company selling products, chances are they will be dealing with engineers and engineers will always be interacting with business leaders.”

The students competed in six teams of four, comprised of two Robe Leadership students and two Select Leaders. With proposal guidelines and evaluation crtieria in place, the students were tasked with conducting background research, developing a sustainable concept supported by a return on investment analysis and presenting the investment proposal to a panel of four judges.

Each investment proposal was judged based on five key criteria including the validity of claimed benefits, implementation practicality and risk, rigor and of return on investment analysis, addressing stakeholder concerns and thoroughness of the presentation.

Throughout the project, students were coached by Dave Bayless, Gerald Loehr professor and graduate chair of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Robe Leadership Institute; Tim Reynolds, executive-in-residence of Management and executive director of the Robert D. Walter Center for Strategic Leadership; and alumnus Dan Squiller.

“I knew that something good was happening when we started to have initial coaching sessions with the teams. Diversity, which can be uncomfortable to some, was yielding great ideas and bringing team members together,” said Squiller.

In conjunction with the Ohio University Facilities Management and Safety staff, students also received guidance as they collected facilities data – such as the energy readings for lights – in order to effectively formulate and vet their proposal concepts.

Stephen Wood, Eco-Challenge judge and Ohio University’s associate vice president of Facilities Management and Safety, served as an expert through asking probing questions about the practicality of the concepts. He also discovered new ideas that could further OHIO's current sustainability plan, which focuses on supporting carbon footprint reduction, energy conservation and renewable resources.

“I think that the students’ ideas contributed to multiple goals in our sustainability plan and there are certainly three ideas that we would like to follow-up on and see if we can get executed here at OHIO,” said Wood. "The Eco Challenge provides a win, win situation. It’s a win for the students and my staff as an opportunity to get some fresh ideas on improvements for our campus.”

Dsc 0027Last year, the first-place team, comprised of Bridget Kilbane, Kevin Moberg, Melinda Nelson, Steven Wise, proposed replacing existing lighting in the Convocation Center parking lot with high-efficiency LED lights, an initiative that students could see implemented on campus in the near future.

The team performed extensive data gathering, analysis and worked with vendors to select the particular LED lights to be used. Utilizing this information with data they received from the Ohio University Facilities and Safety Department, they generated a return on investment analysis showing that the $36,250 investment would be recovered in less than three years including a savings of $2,884 in annual maintenance costs.

In addition to the economic benefits, the lights will save 82,000 pounds of CO2 emissions contributing to the OHIO's aggressive sustainability goals.

Other teams investment proposals detailed practical concepts such as installing solar lighting along the bike path, solar car ports, low flow sprinkler nozzles and light sensors within the hallways of various campus buildings.

“It would be a great accomplishment for students to come back to campus as alumni in a few years, look around and see something that they created,” said Bayless.

Although there many obstacles to navigate through, these Bobcats learned how to effectively identify an area of opportunity and work together to pitch an idea that could make an impact on campus.

“They faced some challenges along the way, but the students discovered how they could combine their technical and business backgrounds in order to create a sound proposal with return on investment,” said Reynolds.

Next year, the Eco-Challenge team plans to expand its reach and implement eco-friendly concepts that will benefit the Athens, Ohio community. 

“With the great support we received from OHIO, there is no question we will take the Eco-Challenge to a whole new level next year,” said Squiller. "I’m also excited about including Athens community sustainablitiy opportunities that the teams could address. With the solid foundation we’ve established, it’s just going to get better from here."