Students win 'Best Proposal'

A group of students recently took home ‘Best Proposal’ honors at the Better Buildings Challenge. (credit: Courtesy of The White House) A group of students recently took home ‘Best Proposal’ honors at the Better Buildings Challenge. (credit: Courtesy of The White House)

A group of Carnegie Mellon graduate students won “Best Proposal” in the U.S. Energy Department’s 2012 Better Building Challenge, an event held last month at the White House. The team’s victory comes as the Department of Energy is seeking to approve more federal loan guarantees for green energy projects.

The team’s 10-page proposal beat out submissions from other universities, including Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, George Washington University, Columbia University, and Duke University.

Each team was given three weeks to prepare a proposal assessing ways to improve the energy efficiency of buildings nationwide, with the competition culminating in a presentation of their ideas at the White House. Two case studies — one from the public sector and another from the private sector — were assigned to each team. The Carnegie Mellon participants were tasked specifically with the redevelopment of the Walter Reed Medical Center — the U.S. Army’s former flagship medical center located in Washington D.C. — and an energy efficiency plan for a New York City office building.

“I think the goal was to get universities thinking about sustainable development policy, considering all stakeholders,” said team member Farhad Farahmand, a Heinz College master’s student. “Because of the broad scope, the most difficult part was figuring out the key issues to highlight in our proposal, but we had a great team dynamic to work it out.”

The team’s multifaceted approach to tackling the energy needs of the medical center wowed the competition’s judges, which was composed of Department of Energy employees, Walter Reed executives, and other experts on green energy policy.

“Our team recommended an outright sale or long-term lease of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center site to a master developer,” team member Enes Hosgor, a Ph.D. candidate in engineering and public policy, said in a press release. “We asked that the terms of the agreement would require a master developer to meet water and energy sustainability milestones, while also having the district award property tax refunds to the developer to meet the goals.”

According to Farahmand, the policy classes he and his team members have taken “definitely” prepared them for this challenge. “Our Walter Reed analysis was similar to a static model that we built in my methods of policy analysis course,” he said. “We created relationships between variables and filled in hypothetical numbers to see what the optimal outcome would be.”

Team member Colleen Horin Lueken, a Ph.D. candidate in engineering and public policy, also recalled her experiences from another course.

“In 19–705, a class that prepares [engineering and public policy] students for the qualifier exams, professor Granger Morgan really emphasized considering all stakeholder perspectives and interacting with the community when analyzing a policy issue,” she said. “I think our consideration of how our plan for Walter Reed would affect the surrounding neighborhood made us stand out from the competition.”

Other team members included Erica Cochran, a School of Architecture Ph.D. candidate, and Donald Johnson, a Tepper School of Business MBA student.

While the team didn’t receive any significant reward for their efforts besides recognition, they seemed to enjoy the experience regardless. “It was great fun talking to the other teams after the competition,” Farahmand said. “There were a lot of smart people there. Plus, the tour of the White House they scheduled for us the following day was great.”

Farahmand did recall one minor setback for his team that seems more comical to him in retrospect.

“The night before the competition they put us in a hotel that faced an open-roof club across the street,” he said. “There was pretty loud thumping music until 2 a.m. the night before — but we still rocked it!”