After eight weeks of dedicated and diligent work, UVA’s inaugural Decarbonization Academy has come to an end. Students presented their work and submitted their final reports last week, showcasing their efforts to advance UVA’s emissions-reduction strategies.

August 5 marked the final day of UVA’s Decarbonization Academy (DA). Each project team presented their research posters in front of their peers and DA faculty mentors, as well as the Director of the Office for Sustainability, Andrea Trimble. This unique program provided DA students with eight weeks of exciting learning opportunities, as well as guidance and support to dive into their respective projects and bolster the university’s decarbonization efforts.

During weekly “connectedness” sessions, DA students toured a variety of UVA facilities and sites, from the Alderman Library Renovation Project to the East Chiller Plant. “Lunch-and Learn” sessions each Tuesday gave students a chance to learn more about decarbonization from UVA faculty mentors like Professor Bill Shobe and Director of Energy and Utilities Paul Zmick. DA students learned how interconnected each of their projects were, as well as how decarbonization at the university level requires great cooperation and collaboration. 

Learn more about the Decarbonization Academy here

The Building Decarbonization project team, consisting of Alex Yang, Michelle Tran and Viswajith Govinda Rajan, corroborated this sentiment. “It’s a great way of bringing together people from different skill sets and getting the best of all of them,” Viswajith reflected, adding that it takes many more people than he previously expected to work toward sustainability goals. 

This observation became especially clear during Week Seven of the academy when DA students had the chance to tour President Jim Ryan’s home at UVA, Carr’s Hill. Led by Alex Yang, DA students documented lighting fixtures and HVAC systems at Carr’s Hill to help one of the Office for Sustainability’s teams with a hands-on activity.  Led by Building Decarbonization team member Alex Yang, DA students documented lighting fixtures and HVAC systems at Carr’s Hill.

The house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, underwent major renovations a few years back, including an upgrade to reduce energy consumption by 40%. The work earned Carr’s Hill an award from the U.S. Green Building Council, which also certified the residence for LEED-Silver. 

None of the existing architectural plans for Carr’s Hill have thorough descriptions of the location and type of each lighting fixture, so the academy students’ work was helpful for documentation purposes. Alex’s main goal has been to provide a more hands-on, in-person energy audit of Carr’s Hill’s lighting and HVAC systems to assess whether timers or motion sensors could aid in energy savings on the property. With the help of the rest of the DA cohort, Alex was able to provide the Facilities Management Building Automation team with an idea of where to potentially implement occupancy sensors in the future.

Decarbonization Academy students at Carr's Hill

The Decarbonization Academy provided not only fantastic learning opportunities like touring key UVA buildings, but it also helped foster skills like research, interpersonal communication and presenting scientific posters.

In my own experience during the academy, I can say with confidence that I learned just as much from hearing my peers share their work as I did from my own project research. It was invaluable to have the chance to work alongside individuals from other disciplines that I may not otherwise have encountered, and watching everyone’s projects unfold was both impressive and inspiring.

“It makes me very hopeful,” Michelle Tran of the Building Decarbonization team shared as the academy drew to a close. From taking part in field trips to Morven Farm and the East Chiller Plant, to her own research and hearing about the work of her fellow DA students, Michelle explained that it is encouraging to see firsthand how seriously UVA takes sustainability.

This eight-week program would not be possible without passionate, sustainability-oriented students, but it would not exist at all without the dedication of the program’s director, Associate Professor Lisa Colosi Peterson, and without enthusiastic project mentors. I know I speak for the entirety of the academy when I say thank you to all those who helped organize this program and put in the time and effort to make this such a special experience. While my time in this program has come to an end, I am excited to take the sustainability and decarbonization knowledge I have acquired with me into the future.


Krysten Kuhn

Krysten Kuhn is a 4th-year student at UVA studying English and Environmental Thought and Practice. She is a member of this summer’s Decarbonization Academy and is working alongside Dana Schroeder in the Office for Sustainability. She is passionate about sustainability education and hopes to further effective and accessible communication about climate change and what can be done to address it.