As UC Merced continues to lead the way in sustainability on university campuses, a new wrinkle has been added to the process of certifying buildings.
Recently, the Science and Engineering 1 (SE1) building achieved gold certification under LEED Operations and Maintenance (LEED O & M) criteria. Certification is nothing new to the campus — every building at UC Merced is LEED certified or on track to be certified.
But who has begun to handle the certification process is groundbreaking.
An Engineering Service Learning (ESL) team composed of students from various disciplines spearheaded the SE1 certification process during the spring 2016 and fall 2017 semesters. The LEED Lab course takes students through the steps of the LEED O & M process and, by the end of the course, they are prepared to take the professional credential exam.
Students took part in the entire endeavor, auditing everything from indoor air quality to energy efficiency. More importantly, the students contributed to a real-life certification instead of going through a mock inspection for a grade.
“It is a living lab, it’s not only documents and passing an exam,” said Zuhair Mased, director of Energy and Sustainability at UC Merced. “Even if students don’t take the exam, it doesn’t matter, because they have the knowledge now and they take that with them.”
The SE1 building had received LEED gold certification during construction, but the LEED O & M gold certification indicates the building is being operated in a highly sustainable manner.
SE1 was the second building ESL students have helped LEED O & M certify; Classroom and Office Building 1 (COB1) was the first. The Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library is the only other building on campus to be LEED O & M certified.
The laboratories housed in SE1 made the gold certification different from the others. UC Merced’s Office of Sustainability said laboratories use roughly four times more energy than office buildings of the same size, so gold certification can bring huge energy and water savings to the university.
It is a living lab, it’s not only documents and passing an exam. Even if students don’t take the exam, it doesn’t matter, because they have the knowledge now and they take that with them.
Senior Stephen Schug, who served as a project manager, said knowing a LEED certification was the end goal helped the team members take the job more seriously.
“It was a reminder, every time we stepped into a team meeting, that how well we did our work would affect the lives of the students that work in the SE1 building,” said Schug, who is majoring in management and business economics. “The certification process was very much a real-world experience and has had more impact on me than any exam ever has.”
Mahak Saini, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and is preparing for the LEED O & M exam, said she continues to use what she learned while serving as a team leader during the spring 2017 semester at her current job.
“During my interview my boss was pleased to hear I had some experience with LEED certification,” Saini said. “I am currently working on creating an automated hub that we will aim to make LEED certificated, and the experience I got from this class will help me get there.”
Mased said outside of the real-world experience of completing a LEED certification process, what he likes most about the ESL team’s work is that there are students from various disciplines taking part.
“So not all of them know what ‘energy’ means,” said Mased. “They start understanding and they actually say, ‘we did it’. They understand and then sustainability, to them, actually starts becoming meaningful.”
Schug said being able to achieve gold status shows the university is committed to its pledge of ensuring the health of the environment and the community.
“The buildings that we all learn and work in are extremely technologically advanced; in many ways, they live and breathe like all of us,” Schug said. “I’m very proud of having ensured the health of the SE1 building, and most importantly, I’m proud of helping to ensure that our university is achieving its innovative goals.”