Event Promotes Sustainability Initiatives among Local Engineers & Businesses

Eric D. Frary, PE, vice president and office executive of Michael Baker International, Ying Sun, PhD, associate professor, college of engineering, Drexel University and Laurie Matkowski, transportation operations manager of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC).
Eric D. Frary, PE, vice president and office executive of Michael Baker International, Ying Sun, PhD, associate professor, college of engineering, Drexel University and Laurie Matkowski, transportation operations manager of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC).

In 2009, the Villanova Center for the Advancement of Sustainability in Engineering (VCASE) was launched as a new center for research within Villanova University’s College of Engineering. Its mission is “to protect and restore our environment through research on the integration of sustainability principles in engineering practice.”

On April 10, 2015, VCASE hosted its first annual research symposium. This half-day event brought together nearly 60 professionals from academia, industry and government sectors to share best practices and research findings to promote sustainable solutions to critical issues relating to water quality, infrastructure and energy. Villanova students also attended to learn about key sustainability efforts impacting today’s businesses.

After a brief welcome and event overview from VCASE Director Robert Traver, PhD, PE, D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE, ’82 MSCE, the symposium kicked off with a keynote presentation by Vice President of Research & Development for Covanta Energy Corporation Steve Goff ’82 ChE. Speaking on the topic of “Sustainable Waste Management and Energy from Waste,” Goff noted that the U.S. is well behind Europe and Asia in the use of Energy from Waste (EfW), which is considered the most sustainable source of power available today. 

Poster sessions followed the symposium presentations where students had the opportunity to showcase some of their recent projects.
Poster sessions followed the symposium presentations where students had the opportunity to showcase some of their recent projects.

Following the keynote, a number of industry representatives took part in a panel discussion on “Moving from Ideas to Action: How to Integrate Sustainability across Various Engineering Disciplines.” One common theme was corporate responsibility. Thomas Nowlan of O’Brien & Gere advised attendees to, “See if there are ways for your company to do better from a sustainability perspective, then set goals and follow up with metrics.” The panelists also emphasized the importance of communication. Laurie Matkowksi, transportation operations manager for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission explained, “Getting everyone together, and working on a common goal” is the key to any successful sustainability plan. Other panelists shared specific sustainable initiatives. Drexel University Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics Ying Sun, PhD, presented her research on water usage and reduction, and the sustainable alternative of dry cooling power plants as opposed to the traditional water cooling. Noting that even the smallest effort counts when it comes to sustainability, Eric D. Frary, PE, vice president of Michael Baker Jr. Inc., recommends his employees use conference call platforms to reduce time on the road and minimize paper in the office. Dr. Sun concluded the session saying, “The type of student who comes out of this institution will drive the future of sustainability.” Panelists explained to the students in attendance that understanding sustainable engineering is important for all engineering majors as it has applications across all disciplines.

Following the keynote and panel session, symposium attendees had the opportunity to choose from a variety of breakout sessions hosted by Villanova’s College of Engineering faculty on the topic of Sustainable Approaches to (1) Water Resources, (2) Transportation Infrastructure and (3) Alternative & Renewable Energy. Faculty discussed findings from recent research studies and described how symposium participants can become involved in collaborative projects.

After the symposium, Dr. Traver reflected: “The event succeeded in facilitating a dialogue between both the university and the private sector. Steve Goff’s keynote presentation demonstrated how sustainability is becoming embedded in engineering, and as engineering researchers, we need to keep abreast of what is happening. It was also exciting to see the work being done by our VCASE researchers, and how well it was received by the attendees. I expect this is an event we will offer again.”