Dean of Engineering’s Advisory Board to Issue Challenge to Tackle Environmental Issues

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The Penn Sustainability Challenge will allow students to create proposals to improve the climate impact of the University.

Credit: Gary Lin

Penn’s Deans of Engineering Advisory Board is set to launch the Penn Sustainability Challenge 2020 on October 25, a three-week challenge in which teams of undergraduate and graduate students will develop plans to improve the sustainability practices of the university.

To improve Penn’s climate impact, participants will create a proposal for one of the following categories: academics, which involves improving environmental education at Penn; Utilities and Operations, which focuses on how to reduce Penn’s energy use; physical environment, including how to improve recycling and green spaces on campus; and shopping and transportation, which involves how to take transportation and dine in a sustainable way.

The event will consist of several rounds, after which the EDAB will award the winners with cash prizes valued at $ 5,000. The challenge will also include a welcoming event and a series of lectures.

Participants will receive a Sustainability Challenge manual, which includes instructions for the challenge, an introduction to the importance of sustainability to Penn, and research based on Penn’s Climate Sustainability and Action Plan 3.0, which has been criticized by students for being vague and not taking enough action.

Penn still lags behind other universities when it comes to sustainability, and the university is frequently criticized for its investments in fossil fuels. According to the Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” ranking, which measures the sustainability of US universities, Penn is ranked 128th.

Wharton and Engineering junior and EDAB member María Suarez first suggested the idea of ​​the challenge two semesters ago. As a student of bioengineering and environmental policy and management, Suarez said she was passionate about the environment and sustainability.

The EDAB team said meeting this challenge was difficult in light of the pandemic.

“With COVID-19 last semester, everything moved online, and the rest of last semester, we put the idea of ​​the project on hold,” Suarez said. The challenge was originally meant to be in person.

But Vasu Macherla, a sophomore in Engineering and Wharton and vice president of administration and finance at EDAB, was inspired to make the competition a virtual reality. The Green Team, Penn’s Sustainability Office, Dean of Engineering Vijay Kumar and Director of Student Life Engineering Sonya Gwak helped with manual material and outreach to promote the challenge.

Students will be allowed to form teams of up to four people, and a Slack workspace will be created to serve as a platform for participants to meet and form teams.

Khue Tran, a first year engineering student who is keen to participate in the challenge, signed up when she saw the ad on the Engineering Canvas page. She took an interest in sustainability through social media influences, including Leah Thomas, who is an intersectional environmentalist, and an Instagram account on fast fashion and environmental ethics.

She added that she was most interested in the effects of climate change in developing countries, including Vietnam, where her ancestral roots lie. Through the challenge, Tran said she hopes to develop relevant research skills by going through scientific papers and Penn’s sustainability plan.

Simran Rajpal, a freshman at the college and another potential participant, first heard of the challenge when she received an email from her resident advisor. She is interested in studying the impacts of sustainability on public health and how environmental health issues can proliferate if no climate action is taken.

“I think [the challenge] would be a good way to test my sustainability skills just because I don’t have a lot of experience in how I’m contributing to the carbon footprint with Penn, ”Rajpal said.

Adam Goudjil, a sophomore student at the college, said he was interested in the academic side of the challenge, adding that he was a “big fan and advocate of ABCS courses”. As a specialist in urban studies, he said his work on the challenge of sustainability will focus on urban and education policies.

The challenge aims to facilitate teamwork, which organizers say will allow participants to learn and grow as environmentalists.

“There’s a lot of talent at Penn, there’s a lot of ideas going around Penn. People are constantly thinking about ways to improve it on the student side. So the reason I think it’s great is because [Penn will] finally understand that students are a good source, ”said Goudjil. “A very, very good source of ideas that will make the school itself better.”


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