November 6, 2015
After 18 months of work, the Solar Decathlon competition has come and gone for the 100-plus students on the Drury University and Crowder College team. Their house, dubbed ShelteR3 or “Shelter Cubed,” won 8th place in the contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy in Irvine, California last month.
Reflecting on the experience reveals many tangible takeaways: pride in a job well done, experience on a build site, professional connections – even job offers.
Avery Smith, a Drury business major and member of the ShelteR3 communication team, said finally being at the big competition opened his eyes to how far the team had truly come.
“Each team had such an original idea and original story about how they were able to make it,” Smith said. “140 teams applied, 20 were accepted and only 14 made it to Irvine. Even then, four teams were unable to finish on time.”
Perhaps that was a light way of putting it, as the Crowder-Drury team was one of the few undergraduate teams that made it all the way.
“I was the most surprised to learn how many graduate students and doctoral candidates we were up against,” said Evan Melgren, a 2014 Drury advertising/PR graduate who was the team’s communication lead. “That we as undergrads were competitive with such established designers and engineers became a great source of pride.”
Being undergrads also led to increased pressure for the students who spent days and weeks in Irvine, said mentor and Hammons School of Architecture Professor Nancy Chikaraishi.
“Our students had homework, they had papers, they had tests they had to take and we were running them back to and from the hotel about five times a day and making sure they had time to get their work done,” she said.
The effort was worth it. Not only did the competition help students expand their horizons, but it also got them thinking about the finer points of project management and on-the-spot problem solving.
Project Manager Jarren Welch, a Crowder student, said that while he felt prepared for the competition thanks to the mentorship of his advisors, there were still unexpected bumps in the road.
“When we did get out there, we ran into a couple of problems, so I learned ways to improvise and work around that,” he said. “I learned that there isn’t just one answer to a problem and it’s all about picking the best idea.”
Though they couldn’t have known it going in, experiences with solving problems on the fly ultimately led to job offers. Project co-lead Alaa Al Radwan credits the Decathlon for helping her land a job at M.I.T.’s prestigious Senseable City Lab. Melgren cites his readiness to adapt as the reason he landed his current job at Killian Construction Co.
“They saw a video walk-through of our home and concept, which had required me to learn an architectural software program in about a week,” he says.
Welch’s new job with Missouri Sun Solar also came as a result of stretching beyond his comfort zone. His offer came not from the building phase, but during a fundraiser.
“I handed them my card and they called me a few weeks later and offered me an interview and I got hired,” he said.
Story by Chaniqua Crook, student writer with Drury’s Marketing & Communication Department.