Co-Curricular Engagement to Build Leadership in Sustainability

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By Professor Peter Jansson, electrical & computer engineering

This summer, the College of Engineering, School of Management and the College of Arts & Sciences teamed up to offer the second Institute for Leadership in Sustainable Technology. The four-week intensive co-curricular institute aimed to engage engineering, management and arts & sciences students in developing hands-on understanding of sustainable technologies and the development of new, viable photovoltaic ventures. Institute leaders provided the resources for each student to learn how to perform photovoltaic feasibility assessments, calculate solar windows, design and assess costs of photovoltaic systems and professionally interact with real potential customers to review a system proposal for their residence or commercial business.

Student teams carried out eight residential feasibility assessments as well as multiple photovoltaic system designs and proposals. Each of the 13 student participants created business plans that included their business’ mission, market situational analysis, pro-forma balance sheets, cash-flow statements and income statements. The students also created a detailed multisystem photovoltaic design, value proposition and cost-benefit analysis for an SBDC client Dries Orchards. The client was especially grateful and impressed by the quality of the proposal the students provided.

Simultaneously, student participants learned to develop real business plans for a venture in a market of their choosing in the US or abroad. This year’s sustainability focus included: photovoltaic system design and fabrication, an introduction to permaculture and anaerobic digestion and construction of the first Living Building on the Bucknell campus (a new geodesic greenhouse that will meet the Living Building Challenge requirements).

The institute also featured an excellent group of guest speakers, nearly all of whom started or operated a photovoltaic business, and many of whom were Bucknell alumni. Their companies included Renewable Energy Alliance, SoCore Energy, Lenape Solar, Mesa Solar, SunTechnics and Community Energy.

This institute was an effective co-curricular tool to develop many professional skills and leadership attributes that are more difficult to cultivate in a classroom setting. The self-directed, non-graded nature of the assignments and expectations challenged students’ intrinsic motivation, while the sense of obligation to real clients expecting immediate results led to higher levels of engagement with critical technical, business, interpersonal and communication skills.

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