Keller Center - Educating Leaders for a Technology-Driven Society



The Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) course continued in 2009 with two ongoing projects and one new one, all focused on energy efficient and historical building renovations in Trenton.

EPICS, which started at Princeton in 2006, is an engineering project course that operates in a service-learning context. Students earn academic credit for their participation in design teams that solve technology-based problems for not-for-profit organizations in the local community. The teams are: multidisciplinary – drawing students from across engineering and around the University; vertically-integrated – maintaining a mix of freshman through seniors each semester; and long-term – involving students for more than one semester. The continuity, technical depth, and disciplinary breadth of these teams enable delivery of projects of significant benefit to the community.

EPICS at Princeton is modeled after the EPICS program that Ed Coyle and Leah Jamieson*77 pioneered at Purdue in 1995. Dean H. Vincent Poor invited Coyle as the Kenan Trust Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching in 2006, providing Coyle the opportunity to bring the EPICS program to Princeton.

EPICS is modeled on the ideal of service learning, the integration of meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. The service-learning feature of EPICS provides an enormously valuable opportunity for students to see the importance of their work and motivates them for success.

The Greentrofit Project

In spring 2009, the EPICS Greentrofit team continued its work studying green retrofitting of residential buildings. It established a partnership with the Trenton based community organization, Isles on its HEAT project (Home Energy Action in Trenton) to improve the energy efficiency of low-income houses in Trenton, NJ. Isles plans to study and retrofit a number of homes. The EPICS Greentrofit team has selected one of the homes and thoroughly studied the extent of energy efficiency and the effectiveness of various retrofitting strategies. From its investigation of the house, the team gained considerable insight into whole-house heat losses, the approach and accuracy of a comprehensive energy audit, and the cost effectiveness of retrofits.

The EPICS Greentrofit team believes that this research project will benefit Isles in developing its programs to help the state meet its goal of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 percent by the year 2020. In meeting this objective, the New Jersey Energy Master Plan calls for 300,000 energy audits annually. Thus, it is critically important that these audits be accurate and that the weatherization retrofits recommended by them be cost effective. This was the last semester of this project as Catherine Peters, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, transitioned to her departmental teaching responsibilities. The EPICS Greentrofit team submitted its final report “Energy Investigation of the Smith House” (link to the report) to its community partner Isles. This project is replaced in the fall 2009 by the “Sustainable Buildings” project.

The Time Project

story5-img1.png The “Time” project is continuing and Michael Littman, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is supervising this work. A dozen students worked on several projects associated with two community groups: Isles, inc., a local non-profit organization, and the John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS). The students in the team were from a variety of departments including chemistry, operations research and financial engineering, anthropology, the Woodrow Wilson school, history, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and English.


The team devoted its lab time to several engineering projects or for the planning of educational activities. To the right is a completed clock face with numerals as of June 2009. The team is manufacturing four clock faces. Three of these faces are for installation in the tower. One is being reserved for a teaching exhibit about the clock project to be displayed inside of the restored factory.

Among Isles’ projects is the transformation of an abandoned textile factory for community use in Trenton and Hamilton, NJ. The major activity for the team has been the restoration of a tower clock from a textile factory. The Tower clock dates from 1896, which was the year that construction of the factory was completed. The team is about two-thirds through the clock restoration. Last year the clock mechanism was completely rebuilt and the activity this year has been producing missing parts of the ancillary mechanisms for driving the clock hands, and the production of clock faces to be installed at the factory. The team also designed and supervised several education activities associated with the JWMS Engineer’s club.

Sustainable Buildings Project

To replace the Greentrofit project, the Keller Center established the EPICS project on Sustainable Buildings, which started in the fall 2009. The project engages undergraduates in the holistic design of sustainable buildings. Students participate in lectures, hands-on labs and group projects that use buildings in Trenton as models for the development of sustainable building and renovation practices, particularly in inner cities. The group is coordinated by Professor Wole Soboyejo of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

The course presents students with a holistic perspective on materials selection for buildings, energy conversion, passive and active solar energy concepts, building codes and instrumentation for the characterization of buildings. The students work directly with solar cells and design novel methods for thermal comfort in buildings. To provide a platform for experiential learning, the students are introduced to residential buildings in Trenton that are being refurbished by Isles to address energy and environmental concerns. Through its research on energy awareness and conservation efforts in the Trenton area, the team hopes to assess both general patterns and specific barriers that prevent individuals from adopting energy efficient habits with long-term implications.