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Synergistic Learning and Inquiry through Characterizing the Environment for Sustainability: An Internship-based Benchmarking Process for Sustainability Innovations

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Stimulating Broader Industrial Participation in Undergraduate Programs

Tagged Division

College Industry Partnerships

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1226.1 - 25.1226.11



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Paper Authors


Annie R. Pearce Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Annie Pearce is an Associate Professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech specializing in sustainable facilities and infrastructure systems. Throughout her career, Pearce has worked with practitioners in both public and private sectors to implement sustainability as part of building planning, design, construction, and operations. As a LEED-accredited Professional, Pearce brings the latest in green building methods, technologies, and best practices to the classroom. Her specific areas of interest include metrics of sustainability for built facilities, green building materials and systems, cost modeling to support sustainability implementation, and in situ performance of sustainable facility technologies.

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Christine Marie Fiori P.E. Virginia Tech


Kathleen M. Short Virginia Tech

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Kathleen Short is pursuing a doctorate in environmental design and planning with a focus on construction education at Virginia Tech. She currently holds a master's degree in building/construction science and management and a bachelor's degree in social work.

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Synergistic Learning and Inquiry through Characterizing the Environment for Sustainability: An Internship-Based Benchmarking Process for Sustainability InnovationsDuring the last decade, sustainability-related technologies and practices have become in-creasingly common among construction companies, both in the home office and on thejob site. However, the extent to which sustainability-related technologies and practiceshave been adopted by companies in the field has not been systematically documented.Establishing a benchmark of the current status of sustainability-related construction inno-vations could be important not only for understanding which companies are using whatpractices and technologies, but also why they are choosing to use them and how to designfuture practices and technologies to be more successful. However, current approaches towide-scale benchmarking of construction practice are time- and labor-intensive. New ap-proaches are needed to benchmark industry practice that can obtain the required data withconstrained resources while offering other synergistic benefits for participants.Student internship programs in the construction industry are mutually beneficial relation-ships that foster student growth, enhance academic program relationships with industrypartners, and challenge faculty to include current information in their curriculums. TheSynergistic Learning & Inquiry through Characterizing the Environment for Sustainabil-ity (SLICES) Internship program at Virginia Tech is an innovative type of internship pro-gram that provides a method for benchmarking current sustainability-related best prac-tices being used in the construction industry. The program involves a for-credit coursethat requires students to undertake research and data collection during their internshipprograms in exchange for elective course credit. Participating students collect data relat-ing to current company practices that can be used to establish the current state of practicein industry and track the diffusion of sustainability-related innovations in practice. Theresulting program benefits participating companies, students, and faculty by building onactivities already undertaken by each.Now in its third iteration, the SLICES program offers multiple benefits for the variousstakeholders involved. Student interns have an opportunity to actively engage in learningmore about their companies during their employment. The data collection protocols usedby students are an opportunity to discuss leading edge sustainability best practices withtheir employers and explore how those practices work (or don’t work) in the field. Stu-dents report that the focused data collection experience helps them better understand thephilosophy of their employers and supports making better choices about what type ofcompany they would like to join following graduation. Participating companies benefitfrom increased structured interaction with their student interns and have the opportunityto learn about sustainability best practices of which they may not be aware. The invest-ment of company time in supporting the student during data collection is returned whencompanies receive a summary of study results that helps them benchmark their currentsustainability-related practices against their peers. Many companies welcome the chanceto have their interns perform a guided sustainability audit of their practices, completewith recommendations of specific innovations that might be a good fit for the firm. Su-pervising faculty benefit by having the opportunity to engage undergraduates in the proc-ess of research and obtain new sources of sustainability-related data that would otherwisebe very difficult to collect.

Pearce, A. R., & Fiori, C. M., & Short, K. M. (2012, June), Synergistic Learning and Inquiry through Characterizing the Environment for Sustainability: An Internship-based Benchmarking Process for Sustainability Innovations Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21983

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