From student-taught courses to cutting-edge research and clubs, the School of Engineering and Applied Science at UVA has approached the challenge of integrating sustainability and technology in numerous ways.

The connection between sustainability and engineering is essential to address the climate crisis, and students across the UVA School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS) are doing their part to bridge the gap. When the topics of engineering and sustainability come up in conversation, many minds go straight to thinking about renewable energy.

Renewable energy is a big subject on Grounds that is shown in a variety of ways. There are multiple capstone courses tackling hands-on student-led projects with solar or wind energy and student-led organizations such as the Solar Car Team that are rethinking what an electric vehicle can do. 

There’s also the UVA 2020 Sustainability Plan that depends on an expansion of renewable energy on grounds to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel free by 2050. However the connection between sustainability and engineering goes way beyond renewable energy.

capstone-2
The engineering capstone team with completed solar project: Back row left to right: Noah Plues, Jillian Doyle, Luke Anderson. In front is Joshua Starr.

The National Academy of Engineering published 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century, with five being directly related to sustainability:

  • Providing access to clean water;
  • Providing energy from fusion;
  • Managing the nitrogen cycle;
  • Developing carbon sequestration methods; and 
  • Making solar energy economical.

 

These challenges span across industries and need engineering skills from almost every major within SEAS, but sometimes it seems like all sustainability coursework within engineering is largely geared towards the Engineering Systems and Environment department, which is home to the civil and systems engineering majors. One engineer noticed this gap in the coursework and took the opportunity to participate in the student-taught classes program. 

Neha Awasthi (CE ‘22) first taught her course, CE 1501 Introduction to Climate Engineering, in the fall of 2021 and has continued it through the spring semester. While the course is hosted under the Civil Engineering department, Awasthi sought to attract a diverse range of students within the engineering school and beyond. The course focuses on different topics each week, such as green infrastructure, heat plants, renewable energy, sustainability in corporations and even personal changes that students can make.

Another goal of the UVA 2020 Sustainability Plan is to enhance sustainability teaching, and there have been signs of that change within the E-school already. The Science, Technology and Society (STS) department, which addresses the ethical education of engineers, has begun to include more sustainability focused courses in just the past few years.

Neha
Neha Aswathi (CE '22) has taught sustainability-themed courses in the Civil Engineering department.

Even the required first year Spring course has changed topics from “Great Inventions that Changed the World” to “Designing for a Sustainable World.” Overall, though, there is still a large gap in sustainability education, especially within specific major departments. It is important to remember as an engineer that a project or course doesn’t have to be directly related to sustainability to integrate sustainable practices such as reducing waste materials and energy consumption, and using clean materials and chemicals. 

An area that exemplifies the cutting edge integration of sustainability and technology across different fields is research within SEAS. From chemical biorenewable conversion to electrical and computer energy management, almost every department has a set of sustainability oriented research projects. While curriculums can take some time to change, getting hands-on experience applying an engineering education through research can provide numerous benefits beyond the connection to sustainability.

If you are interested in pursuing more sustainability education during your time at UVA, here are some opportunities:

Take sustainability focused classes within the engineering school

  • MSE 2101 - Materials that Shape Our Civilization
  • CE 3050 - Introduction to Green Engineering
  • CE 4040 - Sustainability and Systems in the Built Environment
  • STS 1500 - Designing for a Sustainable World
  • STS 2050 - Introduction to Sustainable Energy Systems
  • STS 3210 - The Global Context of Clean Energy Materials

 

solar car team

Join sustainability centric engineering group

  • Engineering Student Council - Sustainability Committee
  • Society of Women Engineers - Sustainability Committee
  • Solar Car at UVA

Find an Environmental Stewardship Working Group that applies to your interests, such as energy, water, materials, nitrogen, and more. 

Get involved with the Office for Sustainability’s Green Labs Certification program.

Pursue undergraduate research.

Take a sustainability courses outside of SEAS 

Sustainability classes and opportunities 

Look for ETP, ANTH, ENWR, and more for some sustainability courses that may also fulfill an HSS elective

 

Jillian

Jillian Doyle is a 4th year student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Materials Science. She works as a Waste Minimization Team student employee to help spread composting on grounds, and has been involved with various sustainability groups on grounds as well as the solar car team.

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