Jen's MEM Journey

Finding the Silver Lining After Disaster Strikes
by Jennifer Weiss -- June 7th, 2011

My mother always told me that when adversity strikes, look for the silver lining. The staff and students at Shaw University in downtown Raleigh have learned this lesson the hard way.

Six weeks ago, Shaw was hit by a tornado.  Just about every building was affected – most notably the dorms and student union.  Classes were cancelled and students were sent home as Shaw administrators surveyed the damage to the historical buildings that date back to 1865.

 Thanks to the dedication of its students, staff and the Raleigh community, the university cleared the debris, assessed the damage and started over in a remarkably short time frame.   Today, summer classes are in session and despite the boarded up windows, blue-tarped rooftops, and damaged trees, Shaw University is definitely back in business!

But, wait … the story can’t end here – where is the silver lining?

Finding the Silver (Green) Lining

Fellow Nicholas MEM student Eliza Davis and I are determined to help Shaw find the silver lining.  Or, as I like to call it, the “Green” lining.

Last week, we started a 10 week Fellowship at Shaw University as part of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps Public Sector program.   The program places graduate students from business, environmental and engineering fields into public institutions like universities, churches and municipalities.  Armed with training in energy auditing, the EDF fellows make recommendations to help their host organizations save energy and money.

Over the next 10 weeks, Eliza and I are committed to helping Shaw rebuild as a greener university – we want to help them find their green lining.

On the ground training

Even though we had a great training session before we started at Shaw, we’ve already learned a few additional lessons along the way:

1)  Become a part of the family

Everyone at Shaw has been extremely helpful and provided all the information we need to perform the audit.   They’ve walked the campus with us searching out gas and electric meters.  They’ve delved deep into their files to provide us with stacks of utility bills.  They’ve even cooked us lunch (twice!)

And, they’ve provided us with our very first nicknames.  For reasons that are unknown to us, our new Shaw family lovingly nicknamed us “Gin and Tonic”.  We chose to believe this is because we are a refreshing glass of change for the university.  But, that’s probably not it.   We may never know where the names originated, but we definitely feel like part of the family!

2)  Practice what you preach

To support our quest for going green, we have decided to forgo air conditioning despite the 98 degree days.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  Truth be told, the AC unit that supports our part of the building was damaged by the tornado, but our 80 degree office is a constant reminder of why we are here.  And, quite honestly, it’s a heck of a lot better than being outside.

3) Leave no rock unturned

We’ve combed through stacks of electric and gas bills. We’ve toured the campus (three times) in 90 degree heat to locate utility meters and HVAC systems. We’ve witnessed the beast of a boiler that once supplied air conditioning to the dorms and student center and

we’ve been offered a glimpse of the new chiller and ventilation system that will replace it thanks to a NC State Energy grant.  We’ve counted endless amounts of T-12 lights, PCs and Exit Signs.

We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and what have we found?

It looks like we’ve started to find the green lining!

Tune in next time as we take a closer look … until then, stay cool and think green!

Jen (aka Gin) & Eliza (aka Tonic)

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