Sustainability fund opens door to more green innovation at Brandeis

flip the switch brandeis sustainability fund groupPhoto/Mary Fischer

"Flip the Switch" brainstorms during DeiSIC

A group of Brandeis students is developing a tool that puts energy saving in the palm of your hand.

First-years Rabeya Hussaini '20, Miranda Lassar '20, Xinran Xin '20, Bec Sheinkopf '18, James Formigli '18, Lindsay Weiner '18, Ben Humbert '17 and Andrew Elmers '16 are the creators of “Flip the Switch,” a mobile application tailor-made for the Brandeis campus that allows users to turn off lights in academic buildings using WiFi.

Though similar inventions already exist for homeowners, the group—which has no computer science or app designing background whatsoever—is excited by the prospect of taking this existing concept to the Brandeis community, and empowering anyone on campus to help save energy.

“We want to promote sustainability and we feel this mobile app galvanizes the student community to turn off lights,” Hussaini said. “They’re turning off lights and making an impact. Lights can be turned off and conserving energy really can be as easy as flipping a switch.”

“Flip the Switch” is still in its early stages. However, it was one of nine undergraduate projects approved by the Brandeis Sustainability Fund (BSF) during Fall Semester 2016.

The BSF provides financial support for undergraduate students looking to devise innovative ways to improve energy and water conservation, reduce greenhouse gas, minimize waste, explore new means of transportation, and promote educational awareness on issues surrounding climate and the environment.

All projects must also address their projected impact on the campus, and include a cost-benefit analysis and their feasibility of implementation on campus.

Hussaini said “Flip the Switch” was born in Professor Laura Goldin’s “Greening the Ivory Tower” course, which requires students to propose projects to the BSF. Goldin’s course, which will be available again in the 2017 fall semester, has yielded long-lasting contributions to Brandeis, including the Brandeis Farm Club and the Rooftop Farm.

In addition, DeiSIC (Brandeis Sustainability Ideation Challenge)—a 24-hour think tank where students work on ideas to improve campus environmental efficiency—gave undergraduates an additional hands-on platform to flesh out their action plan for increased sustainability.

“Every proposal the BSF received this year was incredibly well crafted,” said Brandeis sustainability manager Mary Fischer. “Current students have taken an interest in not only doing their part to help our planet, but bringing the entire Brandeis community in on this very important mission as well. It’s very inspiring.”

“One of the most interesting developments in the BSF this year was our collaboration with the first-ever DeiSIC,” Fischer added. “Students were able to generate ideas and get feedback from various campus stakeholders over the span of 24 hours before proposing their BSF projects.”

Hussaini and her team will now collaborate with undergraduate and graduate students with computer science and mobile app-designing backgrounds to make “Flip the Switch” a reality. The group is already looking to become a sanctioned Student Union club, so they can get a new source of funding and attract more peers to their cause.

Meanwhile, other projects approved by the BSF include a plan to make the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center greener, increase installation of environmentally friendly water bottle refilling stations, and investing in a solar-powered study table students can use to recharge devices outside the Brandeis libraries.

Though many of these projects are still in their early stages, some of the groups may see their work realized by the end of spring semester 2017.

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