Recently, ten students from South West College (SWC) embarked on a three-week journey to Pittsburgh to learn best practices in energy efficient design through the Penn State High-Performance Building Summer programme, a collaborative effort between the Penn State Centre Pittsburgh, Penn State-led Global Building Network (GBN), South West College, and the Green Building Alliance in Pittsburgh.

The SWC students specializing in engineering, construction, architecture, and design are the second cohort of students to complete the programme and were joined by three instructors from SWC. The programme, hosted at the Penn State Centre Pittsburgh, offered a comprehensive curriculum, including classroom lectures, engaging discussions, visits to local sites, and valuable interactions with industry professionals. Its primary objective was to equip students with the necessary knowledge in high-performance building design, emphasizing the importance of sustainability, efficiency, and overall well-being.

Tom Bartnik, director of the Penn State Centre Pittsburgh, said the programme is designed to prepare the students to be trained as a PHIUS Certified Consultant, or a PHI Certified Passive House Designer, the world’s leading standard in energy-efficient construction.

“We all collaborated to craft the three-week session at the Penn State Centre Pittsburgh to combine classroom instruction with first-hand activities and several field trips,” Bartnik said. “With Pittsburgh’s solid portfolio of high-performance buildings, students toured the net-zero energy and net-zero water buildings at Tree Pittsburgh, Frick Environmental Centre, and Phipps Centre for Sustainable Landscapes, the first and only building to meet six of the highest green certifications. Additional tours featured Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh MuseumLab, and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Carrick, which is the first certified Passive House library in North America. And at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, students experienced iconic American architecture.”

Over the course of the programme, students delved into topics such as CO2 emissions from buildings and construction, principles of Passive Housing, efficient materials, air-tight installation practices, and sustainable building design. They also compared and contrasted buildings in Northern Ireland and the United States and honed their skills by sketching profiles of sustainable houses.

To balance their academic endeavours, the group immersed themselves in Pittsburgh's vibrant culture and activities. They lived downtown for the entire duration of the program and explored various areas within the city, including popular attractions such as the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium, Carnegie Science Centre, Randyland, and Kennywood. Additionally, they had the opportunity to attend a Pittsburgh Pirates game at PNC Park alongside Penn State students from the City Semester Pittsburgh program.

The final week of the programme saw the students form teams and undertake the task of designing a small multi-functional community building in Allegheny Commons Park. The focus of their project was to prioritize energy efficiency and sustainability while also integrating the historical and environmental aspects of the park.

Elisha Mc Dermott, studying Level 3 Construction Engineering and Management at SWC, said the programme has been a transformative experience and has broadened her understanding of the importance of high-performance building design.

"The engaging discussions, visits to local sites, and interactions with industry professionals expanded my horizons and allowed me to see the real-world applications of what we learned in the classroom. This programme has not only equipped me with valuable knowledge and skills in high-performance building design but has also instilled a sense of responsibility towards creating a more sustainable future. I am truly grateful to South West College and Penn State Centre Pittsburgh for this incredible opportunity that will undoubtedly shape my future career.”

At SWC, many of our courses provide you with the chance to take part in programmes like this, all funded by the prestigious Turing Scheme UK.

Turing Scheme UK