UVA Decarbonization Academy

UVA has launched the inaugural Decarbonization Academy for students who want hands-on learning experiences over the summer while helping the University achieve its goals of being and carbon-neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel-free by 2050. 

The Teaching & Research Sub-Committee of the University Sustainability Committee, with support from the Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI), is proud to announce the launch of the UVA Decarbonization Academy. This year's session will occur June 13 to August 5, 2022.

The program will provide a robust learning experience for rising third- and fourth-years, and graduate students currently enrolled in any UVA program who are interested in working towards UVA’s goals of being and carbon-neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel-free by 2050. Student participants will receive $5000 for the summer.

Participants will engage with faculty and staff through the program's two signature components: They will complete a hands-on, individual learning project, and group-based shared learning activities to develop connections among the fellows and foster dissemination of cutting-edge content.

For questions, please contact the program director, Professor Lisa Colosi Peterson lmc6b@virginia.edu.

Important Dates 

  • Applications open: April 14, 2022  
  • Participants are notified: May 9, 2022 
  • Program begins: June 13, 2022 
  • Midterm deliverables due: July 11, 2022
  • Program ends (final papers due): August, 2022 
  • Symposium and Final Celebration: August 21, 2022  

**Participants for this year have been selected.  

Individual decarbonization learning experiences (i.e., “projects”)

Individual decarbonization learning experiences (i.e., “projects”) – Participants will be slotted into an individual decarbonization project based on their interests and previous experiences. The projects will be supervised by a faculty member with relevant expertise and/or co-supervised by UVA personnel with relevant experience (e.g., UVA Facilities Management). Acceptable projects will cover a broad range of topics and structures.  

Participants will work on their projects approximately 30-35 hours per week for the 8-week internship. At the end of the internship, the knowledge generated via the project will be summarized in two forms: as both a written report, and as an interactive project poster, which will be presented at a symposium hosted by UVA’s Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI). Formatting suggestions for these deliverables will be distributed at a later date.  

Examples of project types include:  

  • Internal (UVA) or external (non-UVA) internships  
  • Small-scale demonstration projects (including preliminary research and scoping exercises, as may be useful for assessing future viability 
  • Preparing or substantively revising Instructional materials (courses, modules) 
  • Benchmarking and/or resource curation (“what do we have at UVA and what else is out there?”) 
  • Academic research/knowledge creation 
  • Other (we are open to compelling arguments from applicants) 

Examples of project topics include:  

  1. Benchmarking Decarbonization (Hosted by Larry Band, Engineering and Environmental Sciences) - survey and critical assessment of other universities and institutions making use of various strategies (besides offsets) to meet their decarbonization goals; with emphasis on how related strategies might be adapted for use at UVA. 

  2. Carbon Offsets (Host TBD) - survey and critical assessment of how other universities and institutions are making use of offsets to meet their decarbonization goals; with emphasis on assessing how related strategies might be adapted for use at UVA 

  3. Carbon Accounting (Hosted by Bill Shobe, Economics) - focusing on interpretation and best practices for a single institution; for example, or example, one entity’s Tier 3 emissions are another entity's Tier 1 emissions. How sensible are the existing definitions used by institutions like universities? 

  4. Buildings Decarbonization (Hosted by UVA Facilities Management): three possible focus areas: 1) building efficiency support - assisting in scoping building energy retrofits, particularly as part of the Smart Labs program;  2) building electrification roadmap - supporting a roadmap for systematically electrifying decentralized sources of natural gas use on grounds (i.e., small boilers, water heaters, kitchens, etc.); and 3) energy modeling - creating/updating building energy models for new and existing buildings and identify energy-saving opportunities; 3) embodied emissions from materials use, the life cycle emissions of UVA buildings is increasingly dominated by the materials used in those buildings - create a framework for materials selection that will reduce the impacts of materials use on grounds. For all components, assessing differences between “design capacity” and “actual performance” with strategies to close the gaps.  

  5. Strategic Decarbonization Assessment (Hosted by UVA Facilities Management): exploring two key areas of interest: 1) carbon removals / offsets - to inform UVA's long-term carbon removal / offset procurement strategy; and 2) assessing Scope 3 emissions - identify and quantify Scope 3 emissions (commuting, food, embodied carbon, etc.), including those that are not currently being tracked (leased facilities, embodied carbon, methane leakage, etc.) 

  6. Energy and Decarbonization Minor Development (Hosted by Andres Clarens, Engineering and ERI) - Design an interdisciplinary minor or certificate program in energy, the energy transition, and decarbonization based on what other schools are offering and leveraging some of UVAs strengths across grounds. 

  7. Nature-Based Approaches to Decarbonization (Hosted by Tim Beatley, Architecture) - A study of the potential synergies between habitat enhancement/nature restoration and decarbonization. How might making UVA more bird-friendly and biodiverse also help to decarbonize? Research on what other universities have done and best practices around the country. Identification of actions that could taken on UVA Grounds and possible interventions to test and evaluate in the future (e.g. Miyawaki mini-forests; bird-friendly building retrofits; strategic use of water features to cool microclimates, reducing energy consumption but also enhancing biodiversity).         

  8. Other topics based on participant interest and experiences

Group-based shared learning activities (“content and connectedness activities”)

Participants will also engage in two kinds of shared learning experiences per week. There will be one 90-minute lunchtime “content” session per week introducing important concepts, methodologies/frameworks, and best practices relevant to decarbonization. There will also be one “connectedness” session per week. Lunchtime sessions will meet in hybrid mode (in-person with concurrent synchronous Zoom option.) Connectedness sessions will meet principally in person (though this requirement may be waived if faculty adviser is amenable), with some sessions potentially suitable for asynchronous participation via Zoom (TBD). 

Participants will be expected to attend at least 75% of the lunchtime learning sessions (6 out of 8 weeks) synchronously and watch the recorded versions of the sessions that they miss. They will also be expected to attend at least 50% of the social events, field trips, or panel discussions (4 out of 8 weeks). 

An overview of topics for the weekly content sessions is summarized below: 

  • Week 1. Why do we need to decarbonize society (incl. UVA)? 
  • Weeks 2 and 3. What is decarbonization? - science underpinnings, etc. 
  • Weeks 4 and 5. How much decarbonization do we need and by when? - modeling, accounting and emissions budget by sector; relevant priorities for US and UVA. 
  • Week 6 and 7. How do we decarbonize? – technologies, offsets and best practices  
  • Week 8 – Who and where do we start decarbonization – global initiatives, proposed time scales, political landscape, stakeholders, equity, what is the role or a major research university like UVA? 

Some possible examples of connectedness events include (these are TBD): 

  • UVA Saves Hour reception 
  • Rooftop Solar Tour at Ridley Hall 
  • Heat Plant Tour at the Main Heat Plant 
  • Green Fleet Meetup at Facilities Management 
  • Community Climate Collaborative reception 
  • Generation 180 reception