LEED Lab stories: At the University of Florida, graduates gain skills needed to hit the ground running

Published on: 
16 Aug 2016
Sarah Buente

LEED® Lab™ isn’t your typical college course. The LEED Lab course goes far beyond just giving students an understanding of basic concepts and actually prepares them to land the competitive 21st century careers they want—and to succeed in them. In LEED Lab, students participate in the entire LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) process, choosing one building on their campus that they work toward certifying themselves. In the process, students master green building concepts, gain hands-on experience and learn valuable skills applicable to any professional field.

At the University of Florida, Bahar Armaghani, LEED Fellow, LEED Faculty has seen firsthand the success stories that LEED Lab generates. Bahar is a professor at the College of Design, Construction and Planning, and also the Director of the Green Building Learning Collaborative at the University of Florida (UF). In the fall of 2014, Bahar started the first LEED Lab course at UF, aiming to bridge the gap between the education and operation arms of the university, and to make UF a laboratory for learning. We recently caught up with Bahar to hear some of these exciting stories.

You have shared a few stories, over the past year and a half, of employers coming to you to recruit students from your LEED Lab. Can you talk about what you are hearing from your industry colleagues?

The one thing I hear, time and time again, from the industry is the need for new graduates with skills in the green building arena. LEED Lab graduates are armed with the skills, tools and knowledge to hit the ground running. LEED Lab is not only good for students in terms of becoming marketable in the green job market, but LEED Lab is helping the industry too and saves them the time and resources that it will take to train new graduates on the skills and knowledge needed to work. LEED Lab is a win-win proposition.

One of my LEED Lab students was hired as an intern in a consulting firm to work with a team on greening an airport. Before she graduated, she was offered a position within this firm as an intern. When I talked to the firm’s president, she indicated that this student knew so much that “I could not let her go.”

Five of your students recently landed jobs because of their experience having taken LEED Lab. Can you share a bit more about what transpired and where these students are now employed?

LEED Lab provides the hands-on experience on a real project that not only helps students learn skills and knowledge, but also teaches them the skills needed to succeed in the workplace—project management, teamwork, confidence and empowerment. Three of my students were hired by a consulting firm in Atlanta because of their depth of knowledge in LEED v4. Another student was hired by a nationally well-known food service company in Charlotte as an account manager; she indicated that her knowledge in greening existing buildings gained through participating in LEED Lab helped her to articulate how she can be an asset to them. As a result of my LEED Lab course, five students were hired when they graduated as sustainability consultants in the greening of existing buildings, and are all doing LEED-related work at Aramark, Eco-Preserve and Epsten Group.

Here is what I have heard from these students:

  • “I passed the Green Associate exam on Friday! I got 192/200 points correct. I am so excited to change my email signature and to put it on my resume. Hopefully it will open up some job opportunities. Thank you so much, I could not have done it without your encouragement and your LEED Lab classes!”
  • “I hope your LEED Lab class is doing well this semester. I wanted to inform you that I passed my LEED GA exam this past week over spring break with a score of 188/200. Your classes on LEED really prepared me for the exam, and I want to thank you again for such a great semester last fall.”
  • “I passed the GA Exam! I got 192/200! I couldn't have done it without you! Thank you so much for everything! I'm planning on taking the AP BD+C Exam sometime in the next few months (before the fall semester).”
  • “I took your LEED lab class this past semester (spring), and I just wanted to let you know that I took the LEED GA exam today, and I passed! No need to take me to lunch. But I just wanted to thank you for helping me prepare for the exam during that class! I am not on campus during summer, but during fall I was wondering if I could meet with you to talk about where to go next!”

The LEED Lab at UF is generating a lot of buzz on campus and is becoming a model course for preparing students for 21st century careers. What advice can you give colleagues who are pitching this course concept to their administration?

LEED Lab allows institutions to bridge the gap between the operation and education arms of a university. My advice to colleagues pitching this course concept is to have a plan for how the course will be offered, what resources will be needed and which departments to collaborate with, and to outline the benefits of LEED Lab to students and other departments. In my experience, students are talking about the course, and it's mostly by word of mouth that students enroll in LEED Lab. It is in high demand: at this point, we are capping the course at 20 students, five graduate and 15 undergraduate. We have students from different majors: sustainability, engineering, interior design, Spanish and psychology.

Last semester, a Spanish major enrolled in the class just because of what he has heard from other students and his sheer interest in green building and sustainability. He was focused on the course material and skills, took the LEED GA exam and passed it at the end of the semester and is currently pursuing his master's degree in business. He told me, “I know Spanish, I have skills and knowledge in LEED and green existing buildings, and now I need to get some business knowledge so that I can start my green building business.”

I am so very proud of our students and what they have been accomplishing. Having LEED Lab has been the most rewarding part of my teaching career.

Watch student-produced videos on LEED Lab at UF from Daniel Kruel and Jesse Jones.