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PSU Schools of Architecture, Engineering faculty earn $600,000+ grant from National Science Foundation
Author: Karen O'Donnell Stein
Posted: May 23, 2014

The National Science Foundation has awarded Portland State University a grant of $630,978 for its Interdisciplinary, Research-based Engineering and Design (IRED) Green Building Scholars project that will fund scholarships to increase the number of students studying building science over a period of five years. The grant will enable new interdisciplinary educational opportunities focused on reducing the environmental impact of buildings.

Spearheaded by Assistant Professor of Architecture Corey Griffin, with School of Architecture faculty Sergio Palleroni, and Huafen Hu, Peter Dusicka and David Sailor, faculty in the Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science, the IRED Green Building Scholars grant will prepare several cohorts of architecture and engineering students to meet the scientific and technical challenges of reducing the energy use and environmental impact of the building sector. The award is expected to make possible the rapid integration of green building strategies, materials and systems through university-led laboratory simulations or post-occupancy analysis, as well as the immediate application of this research through collaboration with architecture and engineering firms, who will put the new data to work on design projects currently underway.

"As the only university in Oregon with both accredited architecture and engineering programs, Portland State was uniquely positioned to receive this grant. We are also fortunate to be located in a city with a robust network of passionate green building professionals, who will be contributing to this program through collaboration and mentoring," commented Corey Griffin, the grant’s principal investigator. 

Starting in Fall 2014, three competitive scholarship tracks will support students pursuing Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Master of Architecture degrees. Designated an NSF Scholarship in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (S-STEM) program, this project aims to inspire more women and underrepresented minorities to pursue building science majors; encourages undergraduate students in mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and architecture to take building science courses to better prepare them for practice and research; and provides a financial incentive for these students to continue their building science education at the master's level. Over the course of five years, at least 108 students’ educational careers will be nurtured through the scholarship program.

The cohort of scholarship recipients will benefit from numerous forms of assistance from the IRED Student Support Center, including weekly study groups and peer tutoring sessions; peer advising; advising from green building faculty and practitioners; monthly research roundtables and firm tours; recruiting events at high schools, community colleges and on the PSU campus; travel support to present research from IRED courses at conferences; career services; and field trips to tour green buildings.

The need for low-emissions, energy-efficient buildings is critical in this time of climate change. In the US, buildings consume 41 percent of the primary energy and are responsible for 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Preparing a workforce in the building sciences is essential for ensuring that buildings are created, adapted and retrofitted using rigorous scientific     engineering principles. Further, in order to integrate building systems while minimizing energy use, consumption of resources and cost, engineers and architects need to collaborate, a practice that this program supports.

The IRED Green Building Scholars program will be a part of the PSU School of Architecture’s ongoing Research-based Design Initiative (www.researchbaseddesign.org). The initiative came about through a grant in 2011 from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), which funded the pilot program of three small, graduate-level IRED seminars. Over the past three years, the seminars have focused on more-rapid integration of green building strategies, materials and systems by conducting student-led laboratory simulations or post-occupancy analysis, and applying this research to projects currently under design in architecture firms.

The NCARB grant, along with the resources of PSU’s Green Building Research Laboratory, transformed traditional lecture-based building science and technology courses into these ongoing, graduate level seminars, in which students were embedded in professional, multidisciplinary project groups, effectively becoming contributing members of a design team—and as well as becoming building science experts on issues relevant to current practice. For the participating architecture firms, working with the students gave them the ability to utilize a deeper level of research expertise in the design process and access resources not typically available in practice. Firms involved included BOORA Architects, SRG Partnership, THA Architecture, YGH Architecture and ZGF Architects. Due to the success of the pilot seminars, a bridge grant from the Oregon Community Foundation will continue to support these graduate courses through 2018 while PSU seeks funding from architectural firms to sustain the project over the long term.

For the School of Architecture, the National Science Foundation grant means continuing and deepening its efforts to educate students in the increasingly critical field of sustainable, energy-efficient building -- making a difference in the environment and protecting our future.