Monday, July 28, 2014

[027] MTSU students thrive in joint solar Habitat project with Vanderbilt

MURFREESBORO — Danielle Jellison and Elizabeth Kurtz arrived at MTSU from two different geographic backgrounds and for different reasons, but both embrace education and work ethic.

Kurtz, who is from Nashville (pop. 601,000-plus), and Jellison, who is from Hartsville, Tennessee (pop. 6,922), in Trousdale County, find themselves budding entrepreneurs in leadership roles in a university partnership to build a Habitat for Humanity home to win a national competition next year.

Along with more than 40 MTSU students, Kurtz and Jellison are part of an interdisciplinary Team Tennessee ( aiming to capture Solar Decathlon 2015 while gaining real-world experience that should expand their resumes and enhance their professional careers after graduating.

MTSU and Vanderbilt University students and faculty and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville are in an all-out effort to make Harmony House the best solar-built home in the nation. Their conceptual design for Harmony House will forge a connection between Southern living and modern green technologies.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon will challenge collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. The teams will spend almost two years creating 600- to 1,000-square-foot homes that will be judged in 10 contests to determine the winner.

Drawing from a variety of classes, students in construction management, interior design and electrical, mechanical and civil engineering will be involved in the planning, designing and building processes. The home will be built on the Vanderbilt campus.

The winner of the 18-team competition, which will be held in fall 2015 at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, will be the one that best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. To learn more, visit

From the beginning, Jellison, 20, a commercial construction management major planning to graduate in December, found the experience “instantly engaging” and is proud to be working with Vanderbilt students. Kurtz, an interior design major anticipating a May 2015 graduation, agreed.

“In the past four months, my knowledge and design awareness has grown exponentially,” said Kurtz, 27, a Nashville native who earned her first degree in sociology in 2009 from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Particularly when it has come to things like solar power, construction and transporting a home — things that are not traditionally covered in as much detail in an interior design program — I have learned so much valuable information that I know I will use in my future career.”

Kurtz, who said she wants to attend the finale, serves as publicity chair for the American Society of Interior Designers/International Interior Design Association MTSU student chapter. Off-campus, she is a “big sister to a wonderful 12-year-old” through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee. She works part-time at Preservation Station, an architectural antique store in Nashville.

Jellison immediately assumed a role of project manager because that’s what she’s planning to after graduating from MTSU and later Vanderbilt, where she will study to earn her graduate degree and see the Solar Decathlon project through to its completion.

Jellison, who is serving a summer internship with Nashville-based Hardaway Construction, is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors student chapter and student representative on the Engineering Technology advisory board.

“I knew this was a great opportunity that I didn’t want to miss,” she said. “We will all gain invaluable experience in the process. … Our goal is to create something that showcases our best work as individuals in addition to our potential as team members.”

In late May and June, Team Tennessee members held two-day work sessions in Dickson and Watertown, Tennessee.

“We did things we’ve never done before,” Jellison said of a structural team’s work event, where they participated in the building of Habitat for Humanity homes. “We learned the process of how Habitat builds homes. As a team, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned how to break down a home and get ready for the transportation of the home.”

That’s important because Harmony House will be assembled, taken apart and moved multiple times in the coming months.

For a practice run, the house will move from the Vanderbilt campus to the Rutherford Boulevard side of MTSU campus around August 2015. Later, it will be disassembled and driven the 2,000-plus miles across the country to the competition site to be assembled once again. Following the finale, the home will be transported back to Nashville, where it is expected to be permanently located in East Nashville.

Students in the Concrete Industry Management department also are involved with Solar Decathlon. They include juniors Hassean Ismail and Ahmad Abed of Nashville and Morgan Corlew of Lebanon, Tennessee. Corlew is serving on the finance committee, and, along with Jellison and Kurtz, said communication will be vital.

Best of all, said Kurtz and Jellison, who have become friends through this process, the finished product will be a home for someone in need.

“At the end of the day, competition aside, this house is going to be a home and someone will be living in it, using all of the components we carefully chose and selected,” said Kurtz, who leads a strong MTSU interior design contingent. “I think that's always the most important part of design — the user.”

Associate professors Janis Brickey in Human Sciences’ interior design program and Tom Gormley in Engineering Technology’s commercial construction management program serve as advisers for the MTSU students. They and fellow faculty Sharon Coleman (interior design) and Kathy Mathis (engineering technology) offer input and suggestions during team meetings.

Rising sophomores Danny McClanahan and Tiffany Silverstein assumed leadership roles with the Vanderbilt students. Vanderbilt faculty advisers include Ralph Bruce, professor of electrical engineering; and Sanjiv Gokhale, professor in civil and environmental engineering. Civil and environmental engineering professors Curtis Byers and Lori Troxel also advise. Chip Wilson is construction director at Habitat-Nashville.

The partners’ website features a blog, countdown to the 2015 competition in California and digital photos of the progress.

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