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Team Tidewater Finishes 14th in Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon Competition

It was arduous. It made team members work harder than they ever had. It dominated their lives for two years. Now it's over.

The 2011 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon wrapped up over the weekend, with Team Tidewater finishing in 14th place out of 19 entries in the biennial competition to design and build a net-zero energy home from the ground up.

It was, indeed, a long and demanding project. But ask the Old Dominion University engineering students and Hampton University architecture students who together comprised Team Tidewater, and you hear a common refrain: They don't regret a single second of the time they spent.

"It was amazing," said Holly Anne Hilliard, a master's of environmental engineering student in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology who started working on the project as an undergraduate.

"It's been really, really hard work, but we've all learned so much. I learned things I never would have learned (in the classroom)."

Gary Schafran, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at ODU, said that's the true value of the experience for the students on Team Tidewater. "They're getting to work on stuff that they never would ordinarily have a chance to try as a 21- or 22-year-old. It would normally take 10 years professionally to get this type of experience. It's a wonderful opportunity and they've made the best of it."

In the process, the HU and ODU students got the names of their schools on a national stage. Media from around the country attended the 10-day competition, held at Washington, D.C.'s West Potomac Park. A reporter from USA Today named Unit 6 Unplugged, Team Tidewater's entry, as her favorite, "with its wonderful porch that can be an enclosed sunspace or opened to the outside, its well-proportioned kitchen and its gorgeous arts-and-crafts living room."

The competition was based on tests of energy performance in the homes, and judged by DOE-selected jurors. They picked the University of Maryland's innovative WaterShed design as the winner, followed by Purdue University and Team New Zealand.

Team Tidewater finished eighth in the final of 10 competitions that comprise the Solar Decathlon - the marketability competition. Team members were a bit disappointed their conventional, practical infill apartment design didn't receive as much credit from contest jurors as some of the more avant-garde designs adopted by other teams.

But they also say the experience of being in the nation's capital with other bright students from around the world was an incredible experience.

"It's been really cool, actually, to engage with other students, and see how they wrestled with the very same issues we had to deal with. I learned a lot," said Rob Stackhouse, an HU architecture student.

Stella Bondi, assistant professor of engineering technology at ODU, was one of four faculty advisers for Team Tidewater, along with Mujde Erten-Unal, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at ODU, and Hampton University architecture professors Mason Andrews and David Peronnet.

Bondi said she's so proud of how the students never quit, and overcame every obstacle that was in their way before reaching the Solar Decathlon finals.

"We really took a lot of enjoyment in watching the kids learn and grow," she said. And now, seeing the finished project at West Potomac Park, "We are so excited. It's exceeded our expectations, 1,000 percent," she said.

As tours made their way through Unit 6 Unplugged on Saturday afternoon, the day after the final judging for Solar Decathlon, Jodi Knorowski reflected on what has been an incredible journey and her plans for the future.

She said that after graduating in December from her master's program in civil/structural engineering, she hopes to go into some form of sustainable engineering construction for a career. Thanks to her role with Team Tidewater, she's already gotten a taste of what to expect. For more than a year, the Solar Decathlon was an all-consuming project for Knorowski and her fellow team members.

"At 7 o'clock last night, they finished the last judging, and we all said to each other that we can't believe it's over. This has been such a big part of all of our lives. I'll miss seeing my teammates. It's definitely been a great experience."

This article was posted on: October 3, 2011

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