UCLA Offers New Green Building LEED Lab Course Beginning Fall 2020

BHS LEED class

Bruin Home Solutions
A Bruin Home Solutions 2019-2020 Club Meeting 

Oct 15, 2020

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Ayearlong course on sustainable-building design with a pathway toward professional certification made its debut this fall quarter, thanks to the collaborative efforts of student engineering club Bruin Home Solutions (BHS) along with UCLA faculty and staff.

The “LEED Lab” course will follow the program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and offer team-oriented, project-based and hands-on learning. It will provide practical instead of theoretical experience in developing building design.

Designed with energy efficiency and sustainability in mind, Engineering-VI is one of UCLA’s many LEED-certified buildings.

LEED, an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most prominent global metric utilized to rate the efficiency and sustainability of green buildings. The process of certifying a building with a LEED stamp of approval requires detailed analysis of nine factors, such as how and where it was built, the materials and resources used in its construction, and its energy and water usage. UCLA currently has more than 50 LEED-rated buildings, including Engineering-VI.

“For students interested in green-building design, they’ll be ahead of the game when they go into the industry,” said Tsandi Chen, a returning graduate student studying structural engineering who is the BHS LEED Lab coordinator and a co-instructor of its LEED Green Associate class. “Not only will they stand out, but this is what they need to pivot toward as they make an impact in green-building design. It gets them thinking early on in their career about how to challenge the norms of design.”

Throughout the year, teams of students across different disciplines will be working with case studies of UCLA buildings to gain a thorough understanding of the green-building certification process. The final exam will consist of a practice exam for the LEED Green Associate accreditation — a professional certification through the USGBC.

BHS LEED class
Bruin Home Solution’s LEED Green Associate class, Fall 2019
(Photo: Bruin Home Solutions)

With nearly 120 students enrolled for fall, the class is open to UCLA undergraduate and graduate students of any major or class standing. Participants have the option of taking it as a 199 or 596-contract course for two units, or taking it as an extracurricular.

There has been a rising demand for opportunities that involve UCLA students in the hands-on process of LEED certification, with instructors such as Todd Lynch, a principal project planner for UCLA Capital Programs, advocating for a LEED Lab program at UCLA for nearly a decade.

Besides lecturing for the Department of Architecture and Urban Design and working for Capital Programs, Lynch has worked closely with various campus design teams to help green buildings at UCLA become officially LEED-certified. Seeking opportunities to include students in that process, he helped develop a club called U.S. Green Building Council Students (USGBC Students). The organization allows students to tour building construction sites on campus and to work with the UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability.

Although students had always been interested in learning about the LEED-certification process, it was difficult to pair up their availability with the long-term commitment required to LEED certify an operational UCLA building.

About two years ago, some BHS members began teaching an extracurricular course called LEED Green Associate, offering free resources and training for students interested in the LEED-accreditation process. Through this class, the idea of BHS facilitating the creation of a UCLA course on LEED accreditation was proposed.

“I joined Bruin Home Solutions two years ago and was involved in the LEED Green Associate team,” said Cella DePrima, a senior at UCLA studying environmental science and environmental engineering and a member of BHS’ LEED Utilities audit team. “I took the class to get my green associate credential, and to have a way to gain that practical experience is really key.”

This past summer, Chen, DePrima and other BHS members ramped up efforts to develop LEED Lab, connecting and collaborating with Lynch and members of UCLA Sustainability, UC Merced and USGBC.

One major challenge was to find funding for this course. BHS prepared a presentation to the Green Initiative Fund, a funding through grants for UCLA sustainability projects. In order to gain approval, BHS’ LEED Lab must address the program’s accessibility by outreach to organizations and departments that represent minority groups on campus.

“It’s a different thing to be conceptually accessible from sending out a really extensive email blast to every organization you can think of,” Lynch said. “Tsandi and Cella and the Bruin Home Solutions group put together a really extensive list, and I’m sure that’s a big reason why we have such a fantastic turnout for the program.”

Many students are choosing to take LEED Lab as an extracurricular in order to obtain credentials as LEED Green Associates. The program’s flexibility allows more students to take advantage of the opportunity to develop green building skills.

“It’s great this program is not exclusive to students from engineering or environmental science or architecture,” Chen said. “It’s open to any student and no level of experience is necessary. I’m pretty sure that everybody knows how important it is that buildings in the future are energy efficient. It’s so important to be educated and know that you do have power to do something.”

LEED Lab is part of UCLA’s ongoing initiatives to support sustainable practices on campus.

Zoe Curran contributed to this story.

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