PORTFOLIO > Cornell University Sustainable Design

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When? December 2009 - May 2013

What is Cornell University Sustainable Design (CUSD)?

This video should answer that question pretty quickly:

After being a team leader for Cornell’s 2009 Solar Decathlon Entry (we built a solar-powered home), I took the initiative to begin planning for the 2011 competition.  However, after closely analyzing our participation in the previous three Solar Decathlon Competitions, and communicating with fellow students, I came to the realization that we could be doing much more on our own. Shortly after, I re-founded the Cornell Solar Decathlon Team, now Cornell University Sustainable Design, with the following mission statement:

Schoolhouse: South Africa
Schoolhouse in South Africa Designed and Built by CUSD students in 2011

Cornell University Sustainable Design utilizes an interdisciplinary, research-based approach in design and innovation to create resilient structures in the built environment and realize a future of ecological, social, and economic sustainability.

Most important, CUSD does not simply focus on improving sustainable building design through renewable energy research – we focus on economic, social, and economic sustainability.  CUSD has the largest and most diverse active membership of any sustainability group on Cornell’s campus, with over 250 involved undergraduate/graduate students and approximately two dozen advising faculty and staff members.  Our members hail from all of Cornell’s seven colleges: Agriculture and Life Sciences; Architecture, Art, and Planning; Arts and Sciences; Engineering; Hotel Administration; Human Ecology; and Industrial and Labor Relations.  CUSD is entirely student-run and pursues multiple large & small projects simultaneously, with student members tasked to take charge of each one.  Unlike many other similar organizations, CUSD empowers its student members to both design and build sustainable structures in the built environment in a way that minimally impacts the local ecology.


Since founding CUSD, I served as the chief executive officer, responsible for overseeing the successful execution of the plethora of projects we pursue.  In addition to directing CUSD’s long-term mission, I also served as the team leader for the Sustainability Research Facility (one of CUSD’s long-term design-build endeavors) and as the webmaster and designer for CUSD’s websites.  After moving on to graduate school (also at Cornell) I took on an advisory role for the research facility, and dedicated myself to offering technical expertise to many of our subteams.  I additionally serve as an adviser for CUSD’s outreach initiatives, our local consulting projects, and our international projects.  One international project, the construction of the sustainable schoolhouse in South Africa, was recently completed.  A new project in Nicaragua has recently started, and is currently planning the development of an entire sustainable neighborhood in Nicaragua with the help our partner organization, Sostenica.  Since I won’t be around forever, I work hard to mentor new students to take on leadership positions.

Integration into Cornell’s Goals

Since its founding, I have worked hard to integrate CUSD deep into the curriculum of Cornell, thereby ensuring its continued success.  Currently, 5 high-level courses in the engineering school leverage CUSD’s Sustainability Research Facility as the case study for final projects, enabling students to get course credit for contributing to the technological innovations that will be implemented in the facility.  In the Spring 2011 semester, the 2nd-year architecture  studio course was geared entirely towards designing CUSD’s “Schoolhouse: South Africa” Project.  Our “Sutainable Neighborhoods Nicaragua” project now provides credit through courses in the planning school and the horticulture school.  We serve as student advisors to many of Cornell’s projects, including the construction of new buildings on a campus, and the development of Cornell’s NYC Tech Campus.

CUSD Poster Exhibit
That’s me, Basking in the Glory of the CUSD Poster Exhibit

What does CUSD Do?

CUSD aims to be pursuing one long-term project (three or more years), one medium-term project (one to two years), and several short-term projects (less than six months of planning) at any given time.  Following is a list of CUSD’s completed and in-progress projects since it’s inception – I have been involved with each of them.

  • The Sustainability Research Facility (2010-2015)
    This is CUSD’s long-term project, which aims to build a first-of-its-kind facility for interdisciplinary sustainability research on Cornell’s Ithaca Campus.  It is comprised of 150 students and 12 advising faculty across 11 different technical subteams.  I wrote the original proposal for this project and served as the team leader and technical director for a two year term from 2010 to 2012.  I now function as an advisor for this project, and I do technical work for the lighting and controls teams. http://cusd.cornell.edu/srf
  • Cornell NYC Tech Sustainability  (2012-2016)
    CUSD is the only student group that is partnered with the team designing Cornell’s upcoming technology campus in NYC.  Cornell won the bid to put a high-tech graduate campus on Roosevelt island in NYC in January 2012, a competition for which CUSD strongly advocated in Cornell’s favor.  Now, many of the SRF technical teams work directly with the managers the NYC renewable energy projects, developing novel solar, wind, and hydro technologies.  CUSD also advises on sustainable neighborhood development and LEED certification standards. http://www.cornell.edu/nyc/#techcampus
  • USGBC GreenBuild Bus Tour (2012)
    CUSD has a strong partnership with the US Green Building Council (USGBC), and the Center for Green Schools.  In November, 2012, we organized a massive cross-country bus tour from Ithaca to San Francisco to teach sustainability to students across the country.  http://www.mygreenapple.org/getonthebus
  • Schoolhouse: South Africa (2010-2011)
    This socially-minded project  resulted in the design and construction of a schoolhouse in Cosmo City, South Africa.  The building was designed in a second-year Cornell architecture studio, and built by approximately 30 CUSD student volunteers over the summer of 2011.  The building leverages sustainable, passive heating and cooling technologies, is designed to be low-maintenance, and will serve as a teacher training facility when not being used as a schoolhouse. http://cusd.cornell.edu/ssa
  • Project Search Committee ~ Socially Sustainable Projects (2011)
    With the Schoolhouse: South Africa project completed, the Project Search Committee, comprised of both new and veteran CUSD members, worked with international partners to complete a proposals for some of CUSD’s future projects. The search committee provided the other CUSD leaders and I with a good opportunity to identify future team leaders.
  • Sustainable Neighborhoods Nicaragua (2012-2013)
    One of the outcomes of the project search committee, the Sustainable Neighborhoods Nicaragua team is working with Sostenica to design and build an entire community in Nicaragua.  The team comprises about 50 students from a plethora of majors at Cornell.  I advise on team management and fundraising concerns.
  • Interdisciplinary Sustainability Student Summit (2011)
    This first-annual summit was organized by me and the other members of the CUSD executive board to serve as a forum for sustainability leaders from various institutions to come together and start a dialogue about ways we can work together to achieve our common goals. http://cusd.cornell.edu/isss
  • Brooklyn Children’s Museum Workshops (2011-2012)
    CUSD’s outreach team maintains an ongoing relationship with the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, where we conduct sustainability workshops.  CUSD has traveled there twice already and intends to return.
  • Harlem Children’s Zone Sustainability Curriculum (2011-2012)
    In addition to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, CUSD also had a relationship with the Harlem Children’s Zone, where we assisted in the development of a sustainability-oriented curriculum.
  • Assorted On-Campus Sustainability Initiatives (2010-Ongoing)
    CUSD works with Cornell’s other environmentally minded campus organizations on a regular basis, including AguaClara, Big Red Bikes, Sustainability Hub, Take Back the Tap, and others.  We also coordinate with administrative bodies at Cornell, including the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and Cornell’s Sustainability Office. Approximately 10 members of CUSD (myself included) hold seats on the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee, which aims to help Cornell achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.
  • CUSD Consulting (2012-Ongoing)
    In an attempt to provide more Cornell students with hands on construction and building experience, CUSD partners with community groups around Tompkins County (where Cornell is located) to assist with sustainable building projects.  WE are currently involved in the design of a sustainable community center.

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