UH Students Compete for Best Environmental Design Ideas

Teams Consider Energy, Environment in Designs for Energy Institute High School

Students from the University of Houston will get a chance to put their own touch on the Houston Independent School District’s new Energy Institute High School, competing to offer new ideas for sustainable design.

Eight teams involving about 40 UH students from a mix of academic disciplines will compete Saturday, Nov. 22, for a top prize of $5,000 and the possibility of having their ideas incorporated in the final design for the new school.        

The school, a magnet school focused on preparing students for careers in the energy industry, opened in fall 2013. Classes currently meet at a former elementary school in the Third Ward; the $37 million new campus will be built at Southmore Boulevard and Tierwester.

Architects from VLK Architects will design the school. Their contract with HISD requires the design to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification through the U.S. Green Building Council, but architects told students at a planning meeting in September that they hope to surpass that, possibly meeting the highest certification level, platinum.

Sarah Murphy, a senior supply chain management major who is president of the student-run Energy Association at UH, said the competition’s goal is to promote cross-disciplinary teamwork around a range of themes, from increasing energy efficiency to improving student’s educational experience.

The competition is sponsored by UH Energy.

Phillip Jefferson, a junior petroleum engineering student, said his team – which also includes students from architecture, mechanical engineering and supply chain management – will propose using solar panels to create a shaded area in the school’s parking lot, along with using locally available organic resources to create biofuels to power HISD buses.

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer for UH, said the students will benefit from learning to work in interdisciplinary teams, as well as gaining experience with a real-world problem.

Both have made preparing for the competition a good experience, Jefferson said.

“The concept is really cool,” he said. “It’s real life. Not only are you working on an energy-efficient high school, but if you win, your ideas may actually become part of the school.”