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Grand Prize Winner spotlight: Danielle Dahan

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If you’ve been a part of the Climate CoLab community since 2014, you may remember Danielle Dahan: she was the Climate CoLab Grand Prize Winner for her proposal on a green jobs training program for building technicians.

Danielle Dahan was the Climate CoLab Grand Prize Winner in 2014.

How did she come up with the idea?  What has happened since she won the $10,000 grand prize?  And what’s next? We recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Danielle and she gave us an update about her proposal and future plans.

An engineering graduate from Brown University, Danielle was working at a sustainability consulting company, GreenerU, when she started writing her Climate CoLab proposal.  As an energy efficiency engineer, she helped universities improve the efficiency of their buildings through mechanical system retrofits and upgrades.

“During my time at GreenerU, I realized there was a larger problem in the operation of buildings systems,” she said, “Many clients that we worked with have sophisticated automation systems that aren’t being used to their full potential, and therefore aren’t achieving the energy savings they should be.” She saw that the disconnect was between the system designers and system users: the energy efficiency technology was installed but it wasnt being maintained properly by building technicians who weren’t as familiar with it.

“I learned about the building contest from my friend Shane Easter, who was a Climate CoLab Fellow,” Danielle said, “and I thought that it presented a cool new way to address issues in the field.”

It also inspired her to think about new ways to approach this problem. “My ‘aha moment’ was when it became clear what I wanted to write about to address this gap I saw in my field.”

If you haven’t read it, her proposal, Improve Building Energy Performance: Green Job Skills Training, is an educational program for vocational high schools aimed at training building technicians how to operate the increasingly complex energy efficiency systems installed in green buildings today. “My hope is that this program will, in turn, inspire building professionals to create innovative, new installation techniques and control strategies.”

“The Climate CoLab community – both members and fellows – were incredibly motivating,” she said. Her colleagues from GreenerU also provided her with substantial feedback and support for her proposal. “It was amazing how people came out of the woodwork to support this idea.”

Danielle Dahan receiving the Grand Prize from Thomas Malone, Director of the Center for Collective Intelligence

After winning the Judges’ Choice award for the Climate CoLab Buildings contest, her proposal was awarded the $10,000 Grand Prize at the 2014 Crowds & Climate conference, held at MIT last November.

“It was a thrilling experience,” Danielle said. “I almost couldn’t believe it.

After winning the Grand Prize, Danielle received an influx of support from Climate CoLab members and others who were interested in her idea. People were getting excited about her proposalespecially those directly involved in building maintenance and operations. Thats when she decided that she needed to continue its development.

“I left my job at GreenerU just a few weeks ago to devote more time to work on this project.”

And we are thrilled to share that Danielle will be returning to MIT this fall, not as a contest winner, but as a student. After her win with the Climate CoLab, she applied to MIT to pursue a Masters in Technology and Policy with a focus in energy efficiency. “I’m looking to expand my understanding of the policy behind green building codes and standards to bridge the gap between engineering and public policy.”

Danielle’s work is just beginning and she is seeking support! Danielle is looking for knowledgeable professionals in the Boston area who are interested in helping her make connections, or professionals out of the area who can serve as mentors. You are invited to reach out to her by messaging her on the CoLab site.