My name is Jhonatan Escobar and I joined O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun Associates, Inc. (OTO) after obtaining my BS in Civil Engineering in 2017. Working as a full time field engineer represents a lifetime milestone for me.. This achievement was greatly facilitated by Western New England University (WNEU) and the extracurricular activities that were available to me while working towards my BS in Civil Engineering. The most rewarding activity was the 2015 Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean.
The Solar Decathlon (https://www.solardecathlon.gov/) is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and has expanded to include worldwide competitions. The events involve college teams designing solar powered houses. The goal of the competition is to explore sustainable engineering and new technologies while keeping the importance of a well-designed and attractive house. Each house is judged based on affordability, attractiveness, comfortability, and functionality.
In November 2015, I traveled with a small group of WNEU students and faculty to Cali, Colombia, where we teamed with students from the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá for the first Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean The concept behind our solar decathlon design was constructing the energy-efficient house from four recycled cargo shipping containers. The house was equipped with solar thermal collectors, a water reuse system, and phytoremediation for humidity control, temperature and CO2.
Construction of our solar-powered house was delayed by a week due to complications with the border patrol in Colombia. The Solar Decathalon committee would not extend the construction deadline, so we had to work very quickly as soon as the containers arrived on site. The team worked 18 to 20 hour shifts for one week straight to meet the completion deadline. The house was completed on the last available date, and was opened for visitor and judge showings. Our solar powered house was awarded first place in energy efficiency and third place in electrical energy balance.
This experience was very rewarding and I suggest civil engineering students look into finding an opportunity to compete in a Solar Decathlon, or another field related competition. Having to work the long shifts due to a situation that was out of the team’s control taught me the importance of being able to adjust to situations quickly. I also gained experience in working as part of a teams, and learned a lot about sustainable design. I look forward to applying these skills as I work with the geotechnical and environmental teams here at OTO.
Students from Western New England University are now competing in the Solar Decathlon China, and the next Solar Decathlon Latin America will be in 2019.