Recently, one of our outreach team members for the 2016 Green Energy Challenge, Nataliya Pekar, conducted an interview with one of our current CECA executives, co-founder, former Projects Manager and current Communications Coordinator, Matheos Tsiaras, about the chapter and what it is up to these days.
The interview was published in a full page spread in The Cannon (www.cannon.skule.ca), UofT Engineering’s Student Newspaper, and can be read in full below!
Nataliya: First thing’s first – what is CECA and what does the U of T Student Chapter aim to accomplish?
Matheos: Primarily, The Canadian Electrical Contractors Association brings together electrical contractors across the country to share experience and advice. Our chapter is an extension of this initiative to the student community, and we’re the first in Canada! Our goal is to engage students to learn about electrical contracting from firsthand experience, and to bridge the gap between contracting and engineering both within Canada, and between Canada and the United States (our chapter is also affiliated as the 30th chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, the American equivalent of CECA).
We also host networking and social events, connect students with scholarship and job opportunities, and compete in international design competitions such as the Electri International Green Energy Challenge and most recently the Student Passport Initiative.
Nataliya: More specifically, what have you done so far?
Matheos: The majority of our success has been spreading awareness and increasing excitement around electrical contracting within the engineering community at U of T. With the incredible support of our industry contact with CECA, Tom Vivian, our faculty advisor, Brenda McCabe, and everyone else who has helped along the way, the successful launch of the chapter in May 2014 and a great first year is a huge success on its own.
More specifically, the chapter competed in the 2015 Green Energy Challenge and scored fourth place for their lighting and back-up power retrofit proposal for Good Sheppard Ministries – a shelter in downtown Toronto. Additionally, the chapter placed second in the poster competition for the 2015 challenge. This year, with the help of CECA and several local contractors, our proposal is actually being realized at Good Sheppard, which we are really excited about.
In late fall of 2015 the U of T CECA Student chapter was approached by the Penn State University NECA to join them to construct a solar powered water pumping station for a community of 600 in Roatan, Honduras. This is part of the Student Passport Competition which Penn State won with their proposal last year. Two members of our chapter, Mackenzie de Carle and Dmitri Naoumov, were in Honduras during the week of March 7 to build the station. We hope to join this competition again next year.
Nataliya: Tell me more about the specifics of these competitions.
Matheos: The majority of the work is for the Green Energy Challenge. Typically the project consists of conducting an energy audit of a site and then proposing a renewable energy implementation and a lighting retrofit. We plan a new electrical system, figure out the construction scheduling, and work with local contractors to do a cost estimate. Then we put together a short pre-proposal and then a final proposal submission in April. A winner is picked from a selection of finalists at the annual NECA Convention, last year it was in San Francisco and a bunch of us from the chapter actually attended for the 2015 poster competition!
For the Student Passport Initiative, the idea is similar. Teams who wish to participate submit a short proposal detailing a renewable energy solution that they would like to implement in a developing country or rural community of their choice. The most exciting part is that the winning proposal receives funding to allow the students to go and implement their design.
Nataliya: You went to San Francisco? How was that?
Matheos: It was great! We were able to gain from watching presentations from the finalist teams, and it was here that we won second place for our poster for the 2015 Green Energy Challenge. Aside from this, there were several keynote presentations, including one from Sal Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, and countless networking and social events for students and industry professionals to attend. Attending the convention was a fantastic way for us to get immersed in the electrical contracting world, to meet fellow student chapters and share experiences, and to network with industry professionals. And of course, there was ample free time to explore the beautiful city of San Francisco and all that it has to offer. The team thoroughly looks forward to attending the 2016 NECA Convention in Boston.
Nataliya: Can you expand on participating in the Passport Competition and your trip?
Matheos: Participating in the Student Passport Competition was an incredible experience. Not only was it a great way to get introduced to the competition and how it all works, but Mackenzie de Carle and Dmitri Naoumov, the students who went on the trip, will both say that being able to actually travel to Honduras and help build the solar powered water pumping station and see first-hand the positive impact it will have on the community was a feeling that is tough to put into words. We would like to thank Penn State for allowing us to piggyback on their proposal this year, and we hope to submit our own proposal next year.
Nataliya: What are you currently working on?
Matheos: The 2016 Green Energy Challenge is currently in full swing, and the team is hard at work on it. The competition this year centres on an energy audit, lighting retrofit, and solar PV array installation at a local school, and we are working with University of Toronto Schools (UTS), a high school near campus, for this competition. The team is holding a site visit on March 21 to collect data about the existing conditions of the school, and the final proposal is due on April 4. As well, the team is working on its outreach strategy for the competition, which will likely include an event hosted by the team either at the school itself or on university grounds to spread sustainable energy awareness.
Nataliya: Where are you hoping to expand?
Matheos: As early as next year, we hope to submit our own proposal for the Student Passport Initiative. Into the future, we hope to be a part of the initiative that leads to the creation of more CECA chapters across Canadian universities.
Overall, we want to spread awareness and education and are always looking to collaborate with others clubs at U of T.
Nataliya: So, what can students do if they join your club? What kind of expertise is required?
Matheos: All students are welcome to join the CECA chapter, being an engineering student is not required whatsoever. We hope students are not turned away by feeling their expertise does not match with the work that we do, we welcome everybody as anyone can meaningfully contribute.
We are proud to say participating is a great learning experience for everyone involved. There is something for everyone who is interested in green energy and sustainable design.
Nataliya How can students get involved and where can they get more information?
Matheos: Students can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if they are interested in anything that the chapter is doing. We can also be found at a booth at both the Frosh Week Clubs Fair and the U of T Sustainability Conference Tradeshow, which occur annually.
Students can also check out our blog at www.cecauoft.wordpress.com. And soon we will have www.cecauoft.skule.ca up and running! This blog is being regularly updated as part of the outreach strategy during the Green Energy Challenge, and summarizes all activities surrounding the chapter.
Nataliya: Thank you! Good luck in the Green Energy Challenge!