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December 17, 2012

RHIT students plotting ways to HELP environmentally

TERRE HAUTE — For tomorrow’s engineers, sustainability is one concept that is HERE to stay.

That’s because Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s recent creation of the Home for Environmentally Responsible Engineering — HERE — has been receiving accolades since its inception in 2011, as it offers cooperative living which fosters on- and off-campus learning among its participants.

Incorporating environmental education into engineering studies has been integral at Rose-Hulman for the last several years, remarked Jacob Campbell, the school’s manager of environmental health and safety. In addition to ongoing recycling initiatives and coursework which emphasizes alternative energy sources, the very structure of new buildings and housing lends itself to the ideals of sustainability.

Open to students of any major, all HERE participants live in the same residence in groups of four, and they are assigned to special course sections in which the methodologies of science, math, humanities and social sciences are incorporated into lessons addressing sustainability.

The residence hall itself becomes a target for design projects producing material improvements.

Campbell explained that as part of campuswide sustainability initiatives, a “building dashboard” has been created, which features a historical and real-time electrical consumption measure for every residence hall. Students can get online and see how much energy their unit is using compared with others, and work together to find ways of lowering that.

Sunday afternoon, sophomores Caleb Gannon and Nick Fish were studying in the main lobby of the new Lakeside residence hall. Both said they like to check out the site that displays their units’ energy usage. For engineers, sustainability and alternative energy sources are just part of industry now, and Gannon, an engineering physics major, said he’s very interested in furthering those studies in graduate school.

“I’d like to find something with nuclear energy. That would be cool,” he said.

Likewise, Fish said working with the power grid is a goal.

“Spreading the distance that a power plant can send energy,” he explained.

According to the school’s website, Rose-Hulman defines sustainability as “an attempt to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” The school has established as a mission statement: “To reduce, to the extent technologically and economically feasible, the environmental impacts associated with the operations of the Institute.”

 Rose-Hulman opened up its newest residence hall, Lakeside, this summer, which is also the school’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certificate compliant building.

“That’s one of our favorite things this year,” Campbell said, explaining that as part of the process, the building was designed to be compatible with environmentally friendly transportation.

For instance, inside a large closet in the first floor sits a bicycle rack which contains up to 38 human-powered vehicles. With its trails and pathways, the campus is quite bikable and the racks are always full, he said. “In the last five years, we’ve seen the use of bicycles increase dramatically.”

About 80 percent of the building materials for Lakeside came from within 250 miles, and the structure is actually two wings around a central core. Roughly 90 percent of the building accesses natural light through windows, thus reducing the need for excessive electric lighting while providing an opportunity for fresh air throughout, he said.

And the school’s recycling facilities continue to churn out results, with a 28-percent diversion rate concerning landfill usage. Campbell said last year the school recycled 130 tons of paper, aluminum, cardboard and plastics, as well as e-scrap. In the last three years, the school has decreased overall electrical consumption by 20 percent and natural gas usage by 15 percent. In addition to minimizing the organization’s carbon footprint, these efforts also reduce costs.

Per the school’s plan, those numbers should continue, as it makes the concept of sustainability a sustainable practice in and of itself.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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