Saving 25

Save a little, save a lot. It could be Daniel Hill’s motto. This intrepid JMU alumnus is changing the way small businesses think about and use energy. Here’s his story written by JMU Public Affairs student assistant Josh Kelly.

Twenty minutes can save small businesses 25 percent on energy costs

By Josh Kelly (’15), JMU Public Affairs

A quick Google search of “How to save energy” yields plenty of short lists, tips and tricks, but finding information tailored specifically for small businesses is a different story. That’s why JMU alumnus Daniel Hill started the Green Impact Campaign.

The business model for the nonprofit company is simple: Empower college students looking for resume-building experience to do energy audits for small businesses that, in many cases, have no idea how much money they could be saving with some simple changes or how to get started.

Daniel Hill ('09) speaks to an energy group

Daniel Hill (’09) speaks to an energy group

“Our program streamlined the traditional energy audit, which is still primarily a pen and paper service. We consolidated it into a simple cloud-based tool that will actually train the volunteer as they walk through a business’s building,” Hill said. “It cuts out all of the wasteful man-hours spent on report writing, all of the calculations, and streamlines it to deliver the report as soon as the student walks out the door.” On average, the audit takes a student 20 minutes to complete and has identified 25 percent in energy savings for business owners.

Hill came to JMU for the integrated science and technology program because of his interest in renewable energy. He became interested in bio-fuels and ended up doing his thesis on switchgrass derived cellulosic ethanol. “I was really interested in figuring out the next alternative fuel, but I soon realized the industry wasn’t mature to the point for me to get a job in it right out of college,” he said.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 11.54.18 AMWhen he graduated in 2009, Hill took an internship with an energy solutions company and was assigned to work on energy audits, something he knew nothing about. “That was when I realized this is what I want to do, work on energy efficiency in buildings. It was such an immediate method to mitigate climate change and I became fascinated by it.” After working in energy consulting for a while, Hill decided to get his graduate degree. He enrolled in the JMU MBA program, where he met his co-founder, Dave Hussey.

“Dave kept seeing this neglect of small businesses getting any type of help for their business, and I kept seeing a total neglect of small businesses in the energy efficiency space and climate change discussion,” said Hill.

They spent their time during class breaks further discussing the issue and began forming an idea on how they could help small businesses take the first step in becoming more sustainable businesses. Eventually, they created the Green Energy Management System (GEMS), a cloud-based energy auditing tool that prompts the user with a series of simple yes or no questions about energy use in the business.

JMU students volunteered to conduct the initial surveys with Harrisonburg businesses. Students were given access to GEMS and walked through the businesses answering each of the questions. After the survey was complete, a report of recommendations and cost and savings estimates was sent to the business owners. The Green Impact Campaign was born.

“Starting up my own nonprofit was never a thought I had. It all happened rather sudden and unexpected to be honest,” said Hill. “We went from JMU and then George Washington University in D.C. A couple months later, we had students from 35 universities wanting to join.”

Students conducting energy audits using GEMS

Students conducting energy audits using GEMS

Since its start, 150 students have volunteered to do audits from more than 90 universities. Those students have conducted energy audits for 300 small businesses, which have identified nearly $300,000 in cumulative savings every year.

The benefits of the campaign go beyond energy savings for businesses. “Helping small businesses save on energy is just one side of our mission. The bigger picture is really the concept of empowering this upcoming generation of future climate leaders. It’s been amazing to see the students that have run with it and tell us that after the second or third one, ‘I can walk into any business now and look around and find five things without looking at the tool.’ It’s really that simple, but it’s raising an awareness on the education side of things,” said Hill.

This spring, Hill is running a citywide competition in D.C. called Power to Save. “We are having students from five major universities in D.C. compete against each other to see who can conduct the most energy audits in a month period,” said Hill. Students who complete the most energy audits can win prizes, including paid summer internships at sustainability firms, cash prizes, and other professional development opportunities. The competition is already on track to help a hundred DC businesses identify a million kWh in energy savings.

In summer 2014, Hill became the first JMU graduate to receive an Echoing Green Fellowship. Echoing Green is a non-profit organization that provides seed-stage funding and strategic support to social entrepreneurs. Echoing Green Fellows include the founders of Teach for America, City Year, College Summit, Citizen Schools and One Acre Fund.

“For me, the Echoing Green Fellowship was a huge accomplishment for us to get that type of support and to be part of that type of network, but also totally humbling,” said Hill.

To learn more about the Green Impact Campaign, go to

Green Energy Management System

To learn more about Power to Save, visit

And for more information on JMU’s innovative integrated science and technology major, check out their website here

Josh Kelly is a public affairs assistant at James Madison University. He graduates in a few weeks with a degree in communications and plans to travel west. When not writing, he enjoys exploring the worlds of audio post-production and cooking.




A final and affirming “A”

Four years ago, 45 freshmen gambled on a brand new engineering program at JMU. In a state with some of the best colleges and universities in the country, including some top engineering schools, their choice was not without risk. What if the program didn’t succeed the way the planners hoped? What if they got to commencement with degrees in hand and major regrets? What if the graduates couldn’t find jobs?

No one could guarantee their success or that of the new school. For these 37 men and eight women, it took courage as Keith Holland (’00), assistant professor of engineering, told the graduates on Saturday. Still, these pioneers staked their college educations on JMU’s bold, untraditional and untried engineering program that focused on sustainable systems.

Any new program has growing pains. But as I talked to members of the first engineering class this year, they repeatedly expressed one overarching sentiment. I heard it again this weekend as Interim Director Bob Kolvoord reviewed the years leading up to Saturday’s inaugural graduation.

For the past four years, students, faculty and administrators have worked together, each learning from the other in an extraordinary partnership. It has never been about a faculty so sure of their way that the input and opinions of the students didn’t carry weight. In fact, it was the opposite. It has been a collaboration like none other. Again and again, I heard from students that the faculty listened — really listened. But even more importantly, they heard students. In doing so, the faculty made these 45 students not only partakers of the new program but participants in creating JMU engineering.

The experience for these students, though, is far more than programmatic; the collegiality they found at JMU ran deep through the students’ educations. As Kolvoord addressed the graduates decked out in purple caps and gowns with orange stoles and tassels, it was clear that this class has a special camaraderie. The 13 faculty members, six staff members and 45 students each filled critical roles in JMU engineering — all bent on creating a successful program and successful students. As more than a few students said, “every one of the faculty knows our names.”

When I first heard about JMU engineering, I remembered the naysayers who said the new College of Integrated Science and Technology wouldn’t fly. Who would hire these graduates?  Back then there was plenty of skepticism. Two decades later, however, those questions have been answered with success. ISAT has proved its mettle.

Now the JMU School of Engineering is following the same pioneering path — and the first statistics are impressive. Of the 45 graduates who earned their degrees on Saturday, 24  have accepted full-time engineering jobs. Another 12 have been accepted into graduate schools, both master’s and Ph.D. programs, at universities including Cornell, Villanova, George Mason, South Florida, Arizona State, Delaware, Penn State, Carnegie-Mellon, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Another seven have received job offers or graduate school spots but are still deciding where they’ll go. That’s 43 out of 45 graduates.

On a grading scale, that’s a 95.5 — a final and affirming “A” for the Class of 2012, the students who gambled on JMU engineering and won.

Last Friday night, when the first class gathered one last time before commencement, the students presented the faculty with a plaque bearing all their names — the first class of graduates of James Madison University’s School of Engineering. It was a fitting gift because they are not only pioneers, these students and their professors are also founders.

To learn much more about JMU’s School of Engineering, visit the engineering site with an archive of stories about the 2012 graduates of JMU engineering. You’ll find it at

The Class of 2012, part 4

Dave Stevens

Every day this week, we’re showcasing seniors we’ve met through the Be the Change blog.  As a group they represent the more than 4,000 students who will receive their degrees on Saturday. We asked them about their Madison Experience, how it has changed them and the best and worst parts of graduating from JMU.

“….I often conceded to educational challenges….”

Dave Stevens of Harrisonburg will earn a bachelor’s degree in integrated science and technology with a concentration in energy. After earning his associates degree at a community college, Dave enrolled at JMU — and soared. During his time at JMU, he’s worked very hard, learning everything he could in his courses and “taking ownership of his capstone project” as his major professor told me. Dave traveled twice to Costa Rica for his ISAT capstone project, an energy assessment at Punta Leona resort. He’s also volunteered with Harrisonburg’s Big Brothers/Big Sisters, mentoring a young friend.

He writes: “JMU has provided me the opportunity to personally tailor my undergrad education. The opportunities on this campus are endless. Even when an opportunity didn’t exist here, JMU facilitated me in opening new doors.  Prior to attending this university I often conceded to educational challenges. JMU made me realize that if you put in the effort and accept help when needed, you will be successful.”

Like so many, Dave looks forward to graduation but with reservations. He writes: “The best part is having more free time to do things I couldn’t during the busy semesters. The worst part of graduating is leaving behind the incredible people I met here that helped me along the way. This summer I am working some odd summer jobs to save money in hopes of living out west for a year.  My passion is snowboarding, and I would like to experience the best mountains in this country before I get locked down from nine to five.”

“I guess it’s made me more well-rounded …”

Jessie Taylor

Jessie Taylor of Burke, Va., has breakfasted with monkeys and collected prom dresses, indicative of the rich and varied Madison Experience so typically found at JMU. This spring, she and JMU friends collected more than 600 evening gowns to give away to local high-school girls getting ready for proms. The fashion drive was fun, it was community-minded, and it was environmentally “green.” Jessie also traveled to Costa Rica as part of an international capstone project undertaken by ISAT students. She, Dave Stevens and Ben Schulze conducted an extensive energy assessment of the Punta Leona resort in Costa Rica.

Jessie will graduate Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in integrated science and technology with concentrations in energy and the environment.

Asked how JMU has changed her, she says, “So many ways! I guess it’s made me more well-rounded.” She looks forward to no more tests and homework, “but I’m leaving my college friends and the college lifestyle.”

Jessie’s post graduation goal is simple and succinct: “Hopefully to help change the world!”

And last but not least: Scott Dyer and a friend

(Photos compliments of Dave and Jessie)

The Class of 2012, part 2

Ben Schulze

Every day this week, we’re showcasing seniors we’ve met through the Be the Change blog.  As a group they represent the more than 4,000 students who will receive their degrees on Saturday. We asked them about their Madison Experience, how it has changed them and the best and worst parts of graduating from JMU.

“I have been shaped…..”

Ben Schulze of Catharpin, Va., is an integrated science and technology major and part of a team of ISAT students who traveled to Costa Rica to conduct an extensive energy assessment at Punta Leona resort. He will graduate Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in integrated science and technology and a minor in computer science. Following graduation, Ben hopes to continue his education.

He writes: “JMU has deeply changed my life.  I have been shaped into an open-minded, confident and resilient individual by all of the experiences I have had and the people I have met a JMU.  JMU has presented me with many challenges and many opportunities, and I have used both to my advantage to develop into a strong individual. The best part about graduating is the opportunity to seek new adventures and start the journey of my career. I love to learn, so the worst part about leaving JMU is that I will not be able to have any more classes.”

Scott Dovel

“JMU has awakened me…..”

Scott Dovel of Keezletown, Va., began his JMU career under difficult circumstances that required a brand of strength and determination that few of us are ever called on to muster. But he persevered and looks forward to graduation.

Scott writes: “JMU has awakened me from my small town roots into seeing a greater potential for myself that I would have never conceived otherwise had I not gone to college. Choosing to go to college four years, instead of transferring from a community college, allowed me to experience more. I met a lot of people from different areas in the United States and world with different beliefs and opinions. I gained priceless knowledge throughout college that has helped me begin to shape myself. I am beginning to understand that I know nothing about anything, but I am always learning.”

After graduation Scott says he won’t miss tests. He adds, “I also think getting paid to work rather than paying to do work is great. The worst part of graduating is leaving knowing that there is still so much that I would like to learn.”

Scott will graduate with a degree in kinesiology with a concentration in sport and recreation management and a minor in business. He plans to pursue his interest in recreation management at the Outdoor Learning Center at Horizons, Nelson Rocks Outdoor Center, Camp Horizons, and by supporting Job Corp Adventure Programs, a U.S. Department of Labor program, through Horizons Youth Services

On deck tomorrow…..Matt Burton and Peter Epley

(Photos provided by Ben and Scott)

Breakfast with monkeys

(l-r) Dave Stevens, Ben Schulze, Esteban Saenz, Jessie Taylor

When JMU senior ISAT majors Dave Stevens (’12), Ben Schulze (’12) and Jessie Taylor (’12) flew to Costa Rica last August and again in December as part of their senior project, they learned  there is a big difference between creating and researching a project on paper and actually getting out in the field and doing it.

The three students, along with their professor, Dr. Karim Altaii, traveled to Costa Rica to perform an energy analysis on a resort called Hotel Punta Leona. Located in the southwestern province of Puntarenas, the hotel is a popular vacation destination in a very  biodiverse country that values its ecology. “For the resort,” Dave says, “sustainability efforts are just as important as potential economic savings.”

The students’ objective is to remotely monitor real-time energy consumption data from the U.S. via Internet-connection devices, which they installed. The devices allow them to monitor energy use by month, day, hour, minute and second for individual guest units at the resort. They also are able to monitor individual circuits to pinpoint consumption trends that might otherwise go unnoticed. From the data the students collect, they can recommend ways the resort can reduce energy use.

“As we planned for this project in the states,” Dave says, “everything was going to work out smoothly with no hitches. After we arrived, we soon learned that when working with a relatively busy resort, there are inherent obstacles.”

While installing energy monitoring devices, they had to coordinate their efforts with maintenance people, owners and guests checking in and out of rooms every few days. “One day we would install a device and we wouldn’t be able to access it for a few days until the room was unoccupied again.”

Because the resort was originally built as a temporary movie set, the wiring was very disorganized, which made identifying circuits to monitor a challenge. Adding to the challenge, they had to deal with frequent power outages, “brown outs” and the language barrier .

“I certainly wish I knew more Spanish,” Dave says. “We constantly relied on our “Tico” (word for Costa Rica natives). They were awesome and always put up with us asking ‘now what did that person say?'”

Joining the JMU students, three students from the University of Costa Rica, Tattiana Hernandez, Francisco Gamboa and Estaban Saenz were part of the team.

The students also encountered the unexpected. “The internet was down in our room, so we had to walk to the reception area to use their Internet. It was late and the the reception area is open to the outside since the weather is pretty moderate all year. Before I knew it, there was a family of raccoons snooping around us. They would come up to our feet and try to nudge or bite us.  I remember sitting there and laughing at the situation thinking, wow, wouldn’t have expected racoons to be an obstacle during this project.”

Along with the raccoons, they had breakfast with monkeys who would sneak out of the trees, sidle over to the open-air breakfast and help themselves to the students’ fare.

The ISAT team didn’t spend all their time in Costa Rica working. “The first weekend we were there we traveled to Limon, on the Caribbean side of the country. We stayed in a small coast resort called the Black Pearl. The beaches looked like set for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies,” Dave says.

Now back on campus, the team is monitoring and analyzing data. They are also designing a solar power system for the resort.

About his experience, Dave says, “I feel like my career goals have certainly been sharpened. It has been very interesting getting to work in a real professional setting and applying skill sets I’ve acquired through ISAT. I feel a lot more confident in tackling such projects in the future.”

And they can all say they’ve had breakfast with monkeys.

To learn more about JMU’s ISAT program, visit

The great migration

Students on an Alternative Spring Break form JMU (photo by Mary Slade)

Some are counting socks. Some are buying plastic bins. Some are making  rounds to see friends and relatives before they leave. Shortly, they’ll pack minivans, sedans and trucks to head north, south, east and west toward Harrisonburg.

The freshmen are coming.

Next week, roughly 4,000 students, along with their parents, will descend on Harrisonburg. The traffic will swell, the restaurateurs will open their doors eagerly, and the excitement will reach a fever pitch as the great annual move-in begins. Residence Halls and advisers are ready. The FROGS are poised. The dining hall pantries are stocked, and the new and improved Bridgeforth Stadium looms over campus heralding the coming of the year’s first football game.

The great migration that will take place here and all over the country is a rite of passage. Only going to kindergarten for the first time holds the kind of expectations for students that going off to college does. It is the beginning of a great adventure for students, one that will change their lives.

Some JMU freshmen will move into a renovated Wayland Hall as part of a learning community centered on performing arts. Others will join athletics teams for practice. Some will walk the campus reveling in the friendliness for which JMU is known. They have come to learn and they will leave transformed.

Albert Einstein said: “It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that, he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

That is the challenge for the members of JMU’s faculty — and one they are well-equipped to surmount. The incoming freshman don’t yet know how fortunate they are or what a wise choice they have made to have chosen a school where the art of teaching is highly valued and supported.

For as long as Madison has existed, teaching has been paramount— not secondary to research or publication as it is in many institutions. And with a faculty student ratio of 15 to one, incoming freshman have the chance to do more than learn en masse. Instead, they have the opportunity — the very real and tangible opportunity — to experience what has long been considered the gold standard of Socratic education: engaging closely with educators and peers to discover new thoughts, new ideas. To mine the gold that cannot be squashed into a textbook or corralled in a PowerPoint.

JMU’s faculty is brimming with educators who want nothing more than to break the bonds of the classroom to help students think critically and creatively. One of those is Scott Stevens, professor of Computer Information Systems and Management Science in the College of Business.  He is one of an elite group of collegiate professors whose courses are available through The Teaching Company, which vets the top one percent of the nation’s professors and selects only one out of every 5,000 professors they consider. Last week, I learned that Scott’s class on game theory is one of the company’s top selling courses. No surprise there. In an interview I did with him a year or so ago, he could not say enough about his love of teaching. If he won the lottery tomorrow, he said, he would still teach.

Yesterday some colleagues and I toured the classrooms, labs and work spaces used by the engineering students on campus. Serendipitously, we ran into Jon Spindel, professor and associate dean of the College of Integrated Science and Technology, who gave us an impromptu tour of the expanded design spaces for engineering and ISAT students. Jon’s enthusiasm was evident — and contagious.

Scott and Jon are not alone. JMU is brimming with educators of a similar mindset. They are eager to challenge, teach, encourage — and perhaps most importantly — to engage students.

After four years, the current freshman class, the Class of 2015, will graduate transformed by their engagement with professors and peers. Their perspectives and perceptions about life and the world will have been reshaped – like the students who have worked during Alternative Spring Breaks in Welch, W.Va., under the engaged direction of College of Education Professor Mary Slade. They see the needs of the world from a new angle.

Out of this new-found and earned understanding that is so carefully nurtured by an academy devoted to teaching, students will find ways to make a difference. Next week is just the beginning. The changes freshmen embrace, the adjustments they will make over the next few months, and the growth and learning they’ll acquire over the next four years will — without a doubt — change the world.

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