As seniors at Lewis and Clark High School, Eric Brandon ’12 and Nick Linton ’13 often skipped lunch to create plans for a zero carbon emission housing development.
“Our friends would come and ask if we were ready to go to lunch, and we’d say just 10 more minutes, or 15 more minutes” Brandon says, replaying the conversations. Linton interjects with his own reenactment, “We have to finish this last little façade.”
In 2008 Brandon and Linton entered their proposed sustainable housing development, called Green Ridge, in Washington State University’s inaugural Imagine Tomorrow competition. The competition brings students together in interdisciplinary teams to address energy challenges through technology, behavior, design, or biofuels. The judges for Imagine Tomorrow are faculty and industry professionals.
“We read Imagine Tomorrow’s mission statement about looking toward a future in which we’re not at odds with our environment but we’re participating and recreating it. We were interested in how that could translate into design,” says Linton.
The pair took first prize and split a $5,000 award.
The year Brandon and Linton won, WSU researchers received a National Science Foundation grant to develop another integrated design and sustainability project. Mike Wolcott, director of the Institute for Sustainable Design and professor in civil and environmental engineering, spearheaded the grant that created the Integrated Design Experience (IDX) course at WSU.
The senior design class focuses on solving real-world problems with the help of students from different disciplines. Each year a different industry partner presents a challenge and 40-50 students work in teams to design solutions. “A big part of what IDX is doing is creating an energy literate workforce. The students who take this course will bring an integrative, sustainable approach to their industries,” says Wolcott.
That course brought Linton and Brandon back together. Linton had enrolled at WSU and Brandon at University of Idaho. However, Imagine Tomorrow had given them a taste for design competitions, so even though they lived on separate campuses the pair met weekly throughout their freshman year to collaborate. By spring semester they had a faculty mentor helping them with a design, and Brandon was at WSU every Friday. “I began to get a feel for campus and the Cougar spirit. Then I started talking to Mike Wolcott about IDX,” says Brandon. He decided to transfer.
“Eric and Nick have a friendship that speaks to what we do in IDX,” says Wolcott. “Ultimately, problems are not dictated by one profession so it takes the diversity of people’s backgrounds to make real solutions.”
The IDX studio in the Engineering Laboratory feels like the creative office of a new startup company. Students work around tables that run down the middle of the long, rectangular room. The faculty members who run the course sit at a hexagonal table in the front part of class, called the “command center,” partitioned off with short black filing cabinets.
In 2011 the IDX focus was Washington state ferry terminals. “It was rewarding to hear that industry professionals wanted to use our ideas,” says Brandon.
While working on that project, Brandon and Linton also started tinkering with the workings of the IDX course itself. They wrote a proposal for hiring undergraduate fellows who could help with logistics of the course, allowing faculty to focus more on teaching.
Linton and Brandon became paid undergraduate fellows for IDX in fall 2012. Focusing on communications, their primary goal was to streamline information organization in IDX and to rebrand it to attract more students and partner companies.
Today, five years after their first collaboration, Linton and Brandon have managed to parlay their partnership into work on more projects relevant to WSU and the environment. In addition to his fellowship, Linton has also participated in IDX with his architecture studio class. Brandon started research for his master’s degree in engineering. Who knows, maybe one day they will collaborate again.
Whether they do or not, Wolcott is confident they will find success. “I have no question that they will do good things, no question at all.”