The Annual U-Challenge
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!
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
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.