April 2020
Volume 3, Issue 7

Sustainable Spring Semester

The Annual U-Challenge

Judges taking notes on student presentations.

Judges taking notes on student presentations.

The Utilities Challenge, also known as the U-Challenge, is an annual research competition that provides an opportunity for students to work with Utilities & Energy Services (UES) and Residence Life to increase dorm efficiency.

Teams work directly with Residence Life and UES staff to examine the utility and energy systems within their assigned hall. This includes a personal tour of their hall with a UES Energy Steward, including the building’s mechanical room and building envelope. The tour discusses how the system works within the building and connects to the campus Central Utility Plan (CUP), which teams are also required to take a tour of. In addition, UES provides data from the last 2 years covering the hall’s consumption patterns and billing for teams to examine. The Graduate Assistant Sustainability Coordinator for Residence Life provides teams with information about student engagement initiatives the department hosts for residents.

With this information, student teams are challenged to develop innovative recommendations on improvements that can be made to current systems and new ideas for implementation. They compile their ideas and background research into a 15 minute presentation that is presented to a panel of judges composed of faculty and staff. Student presentations are required to provide background on their assigned building, including who the dorm is named after, past renovations, and utility and cost trends, in addition to their recommendations.

There are 3 total rounds of the competition starting with the pre-presentation round. This round is where teams are able to present their initial findings and gain feedback from the judges without worry about their scores impacting their chances of winning. It is meant to be a learning experience where teams can practice and make sure that they are within the 15 minute time limit and understand the utility systems. Several weeks later is the first round of presentations so teams have time to adjust their presentations based on the initial feedback of the pre-presentation round. The first round determines which 2 teams from each level will be advancing to the final round.

The 4 remaining teams present at the final round and banquet hosted in the Memorial Student Center. All teams are invited to the banquet even if they will not be presenting. Dinner features a plant-based meal catered by Chartwells with locally-sourced ingredients and all food waste is collected for later composting. Following dinner, the 4 remaining teams present with undergraduate teams presenting first. Teams are judged by 2 sponsor representatives, the Executive Directors of Residence Life and UES, and the Director of the Office of Sustainability.

This year we had 8 teams that participated to develop ideas to improve dorms and create a culture of sustainability on campus. In early March, students presented their initial findings during the pre-presentation round. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, presentations had to be held online using Zoom and the final round and banquet was cancelled. Instead, teams recorded these final presentations and Zoom links to the recordings were sent to judges for grading. Winning teams were then announced via email and prizes will be delivered during the fall semester.

We would also like to congratulate the winners of this year’s challenge!


1st Place

Undergraduate Team 3 – Appelt Hall

Eamonn West, Jessica Rodriguez-Nino, Mayka Coutino Ramirez, Chau Nguyen (Leader), Jasmine Paredes

Graduate Team 4 – Krueger Hall

Ronak Anil Patil, Bhagyashree Belokar (Leader), Xi Zhao, Sourav Bandyopadhyay

2nd Place

Undergraduate Team 4 – Dunn Hall

Yubin Kim, Sabrina Cervantes Vizcaino (Leader), Alex Chung, Jaedyn Medrano, Samuel Dixon

Graduate Team 3 – Eppright Hall

Amin Isazadeh (Leader), Haleh Moghaddasi, Shinwoo Lee, Suraj Alimi, Prajesh Arvind Jangale

Here you can view the full list of winners of each U-Challenge.

Let us highlight some amazing ideas our teams presented this year!

  • Double Pane Windows
    • Helps reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool dorms by outside temperatures being kept out
  • Improve E-Waste recycling
  • Green roofs and walls
    • Reduces heat absorption and promotes well-being by increasing green space around halls
  • Sustainability workshop and pamphlet during freshman orientation
    • Help give ideas to students on making their dorm green and get them involved in sustainability as they start their academic journey at A&M
  • Pizza Box Collection
    • Recycling plants don’t accept pizza boxes due to the oil stains but it can be used in compost like is currently done with the TAMU Energy Club’s Cardboard to Compost program
  • Pop-up thrift shop or swap party
    • Students would donate gently used items like clothing and decorations which other students can them look through for items they need

Ideas from each U-Challenge are added to the master list of recommendations to help improve sustainability. This master list is examined each year for recommendations that can be implemented through Aggie Green Fund grants or other means. Here are some of the over 20 recommendations that have been done so far!

  • Sustainability Living Learning Community
    • A community of on-campus residents who share a passion for or interest in living more sustainable lives
  • LED light bulbs
    • Have a longer lifespan and less energy consumption compared to fluorescent light bulbs used today.
  • Educational signage in different common areas
    • Stickers have been placed in all hall laundry rooms and the White Creek apartments to educate residents on how to be more sustainable with their laundry or in their apartment
  • Low emission glass windows
    • Low emission (low e) glass minimizes the amount of infrared and ultraviolet light that comes into the building, reducing the amount of heat transferred
  • Water bottle filling stations in all residence halls
    • Promote the use of reusable bottles while providing access to cold, filtered drinking water
Undergraduate Presenting!

Undergraduate Presenting!

The U-Challenge would not be possible without the generosity of our corporate sponsors, Johnson Controls (JCI) and Siemens. Sponsors not only fund this amazing opportunity for students, but also provide extra events for them to attend. These events include a mock energy audit conducted by Energy Engineers from Siemens and an internship and job talk done by JCI. The mock energy audit allows students to see first-hand what the job of an Energy Engineer is like. They are able to ask questions and work through the process of examining a building’s utility and energy systems while gaining knowledge from experienced professionals.

JCI’s presentation discusses a variety of topics including how the international company is sustainable. This year, teams were lucky to hear from Jenna Kunde, Director of Sustainability Programs. She, along with former student and Account Executive Phil Purpich, discussed how JCI is a leading company in sustainable practices. In addition to the systems they have in place at JCI, they also discussed their work around the world in automating buildings and making them more sustainable. The talk finished with a Q&A session and discussions about internship and job opportunities for students in the future.

The U-Challenge is open to all majors and classifications so everyone is highly encouraged to apply! It can also be used to fulfill course credit for a variety of majors with approval from the student’s advisor. Next year’s challenge application will be open in late Fall 2020 or early Spring 2021. Follow Residence Life Sustainability on our various social media accounts to stay up-to-date on all of the department’s sustainability initiatives!

Email: sustainability@reslife.tamu.edu

Instagram: aggiesgoinggreen

Facebook: Aggies Going Green

Twitter: @TAMUResLife

Webpage: reslife.tamu.edu/living/sustainability