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Calculating the impact when a campus goes green
by Chuck Gordon

The projects that comprise the Collaborative for the Common Good run the gamut from tangible and immediate to conceptual and long-term. The one being implemented by Dr. Sandi Mills and Dr. Kaitlyn Perry – an analysis of select campus buildings’ energy use – certainly falls into the latter category.

That doesn’t mean it’s not important. In fact, it could have a lasting, twofold effect: Helping the University do its part to save the environment (and money), while nudging students toward a more conservationist mindset.

Professor Sandi Mills goes over a student's work

As part of the Green Revolving Loan Fund, a U.S. Department of Energy program that encourages universities, healthcare providers and other organizations to make their buildings more energy efficient, Wingate has made several improvements to some older buildings on campus. Already, hot-water tanks have been replaced in Alumni residence hall; in the Ethel K. Smith Library, 40 percent of the original, 60-year-old lights have been replaced with energy-efficient bulbs; and plug load controllers have been installed for many large electronic devices on campus, such as water fountains and photocopiers.

Another facet of the GRLF project is the placement of energy-use meters in six buildings on campus. That’s where Mills and Perry come in. Their students have been taking data from the meters and comparing the energy use in those buildings. The University can then use those findings to make decisions about future purchases, with an eye on being as energy-conscious as possible.

“There will be almost $15,000 in energy savings per year but almost all occurs outside the sight of our students,” says Dr. Cathy Wright, executive director of the Collaborative for the Common Good. “Therefore, to motivate students, faculty, and staff to develop innovative strategies to understand and reduce energy use, our math department is incorporating this analysis into their general education courses.”

The exercise is especially beneficial to students, who get to practice their math skills in a real-world setting.

Perry’s course, Quantitative Reasoning (Math 116), is a general math class composed primarily of freshmen. Toward the end of last semester, students worked on a project in which they compared the Wednesday and Sunday energy use of two buildings on campus.

Mills’ course, Inferential Statistics (Math 209), is more advanced. In her class last semester, students dug deeper, comparing buildings’ energy use over an entire month.

Mills’ hope is that the students’ findings will influence the University’s construction and renovation of buildings. “If nothing else, we make the students more aware, and we’re hoping we can take this some places and present it,” Mills says.

In Perry’s class, students took surveys before and after the semester regarding their attitude toward energy use. The idea is to make them stop before they leave lights on, blast the air conditioner or throw away recyclable items.

Working with numbers that pertain to the environment they live in should help on that front, as well as make the topic a little more interesting.

“I think the students are benefiting just by getting real data,” Perry says. “Textbooks are outdated. They're using examples from 2000. The data probably doesn’t mean anything to these students, because they’re so young. This is all about Wingate.”

Says Wright: “This will allow all students entering Wingate to engage with data analysis in a way that will also educate them about energy efficiency and allow math to be more relevant to their life on campus.”

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