Logo: University of Southern California

USC LEED Team Nabs Third Prize in National Construction Competition

Astani Department’s student team was one of only eight teams coming away with top honors.
Claudia Melendez
February 28, 2009 —

The USC LEED team, a group of students from several engineering and environmental programs, nabbed third prize at the national Associated Schools of Construction Competition, held in Sparks, Nevada, Feb. 11 - 14.

It was the first time that USC had sent a team to compete in a “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) contest and the LEED team was the only one of eight teams to come away with top honors.  LEED is a green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council which provides a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable construction.

The winning team -- In the back row, left to right, are Hanna Kurth, Kim Boynton, Doreen Liou and Dan Dempster. Kneeling in front are Alison Lind, team captain, and Andrew Sieglen.

“We competed (against) the largest number of teams, we had the worst odds and still placed third,” said Andrew Sieglen, a senior majoring in environmental studies with a business concentration. There were a total of 17 teams competing in the category.

Five of the six members of the LEED team were culled from the Sustainable Design and Construction Practices class, taught by Todd Lukesh in the Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.  They began preparing in early September, soon after they were selected to be on the team.  First, they decided to learn LEED principles inside and out, said team captain Alison Lind, and once they had become LEED-accredited professionals, they began training for the competition in late November.

Finally, at 7 a.m. on Feb. 12, a day after arriving in Sparks, the group was given their marching orders: analyze a big-box retail store and determine what level of LEED certification the owner could expect to achieve, as well as determining how much and how long it would cost to achieve that certification.  The team was also asked to estimate the cost of a rainwater harvesting system and a more innovative technology called “night sky cooling,” which involves pumping water to the roof at night and spraying it.

“They’re just not very efficient buildings because they’re so large and they have so much volume of space to heat and cool; they very difficult to be sustainable. That was another part of the challenge of this problem,” said Hanna Kurth, a senior in civil engineering with an emphasis in construction.

The six students had until 9 p.m. to develop a 20-page booklet outlining their proposed solutions. The next day they gave a power point presentation to a panel of four judges: an owner’s representative, contractor, architect and the owner.  The following day, they learned that the judges had awarded them third prize along with the rest of the participants.
Back on campus with their prize -- Hanna Kurth, left, Andrew Sieglen, center, and team captain Alison Lind, right.

“I am extremely satisfied with our LEED team success,” Henry Koffman, director of the Construction Engineering and Management Program, wrote in an e-mail.  “I was not expecting for our LEED team to finish anywhere near the top three schools.”

Koffman, who advised the group and accompanied them to the competition, praised the students for their hard work, their dedication and their attitude.

“It was an overall a great experience for me seeing our students succeed against tremendous odds.  The team had great chemistry.  I am very proud to be their Faculty Advisor although all the credit belongs to them.”

Along with the bragging rights, a $500 cash award and T-shirts, the students earned valuable on-hands experience designing a LEED project and the opportunity to meet other professionals in their fields.

“There were tons of construction companies there running the competition behind the scenes,” said Lind, a senior in the civil and environmental engineering.  “You meet a lot of people in the industry… You felt much closer to them, they’re very approachable and they knew who you were by the end of the weekend. “