Meet Charlotte Aitken, DEP Team Energy’s Summer Intern

May 30, 2019
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Sparking an Interest 

I have always been a problem solver. In elementary school, I mediated arguments between my classmates; middle school taught me to problem-solve academically. In high school, however, I was introduced to problems that didn’t have solutions as simple as the math equations I was used to. These issues were much bigger, much more threatening, and therefore unavoidable. Topics like poverty, world war, inequalities of various kinds, and corruption frequented my classes, and I became increasingly aware that the world is far from a perfect place. But these issues hold no weight if there is no world for them to exist within.  

It wasn’t until I took Environmental Science in my junior year at Walt Whitman High School here in Montgomery County that I realized this. The class opened my eyes to the effects that humans have on the planet, and it made me realize that every action, no matter how large or small, affects our world. The largest problem we face is one that we created: climate change. 

At the same time that I was learning about climate change, I was being introduced to the built environment in my Civil Engineering and Architecture class. I remember noticing a surprising amount of overlap between these two subjects, and I was fascinated. I learned about topics like designing for different climates, considering building orientation, and environmentally beneficial landscaping like bioswales, green roofs, and rain gardens.

Life In College 

Entering college, I could not decide which of my passions I wanted to pursue: Environmental Science or Architecture. So, I chose both. As an incoming junior at Tulane University, I am pursuing a double major between the two.  

On campus, I have attempted to be equally as involved in both disciplines. I am an active member of both Women in Science and Women in Architecture, and I am a member of the professional architecture fraternity on campus.  

Tulane Unplugged 

As a freshman, I had the opportunity to be an advocate for an energy-saving competition among the dorms on Tulane’s campus called Tulane Unplugged. As an advocate, I promoted the competition in my dorm and was able to track each building’s energy and water usage on a day-to-day basis.  

By spreading the word to my fellow residents about simple efforts like turning off lights, taking shorter showers, and doing fewer, larger loads of laundry, I was able to watch my building’s energy and water usage decrease. Although my building did not win, my community members and I were proud to jump from 9th to 4th place out of 12 dorms, reducing the overall carbon footprint of our campus. 

Taking My Interests Abroad 

Next semester, I’ll be attending University of Sydney as part of my study abroad program. In Sydney, I will continue to take classes in both Environmental Science and Architecture. In addition to my studies, I plan to research and learn how Australians handle climate change–if at all different from the US. What government policies exist to enforce sustainability in design? Are there environmentally friendly building practices common in Australia that could be brought to the United States? These are questions I aim to answer during my time abroad and incorporate into my studies.  

Summer at DEP and Beyond 

That brings me to DEP. This summer, I’ll be looking at energy benchmarking data from buildings in Montgomery County. Analyzing this data will not only provide insight on the environmental effects that buildings have, but also how these effects may be mitigated through improved design and operation 

In the future, I aspire to have a career in Sustainable Design. Whether that means studying and collecting data, designing environmentally friendly structures, or implementing policies to raise sustainable design standards, I aim to combine my passions into something that will positively impact our planet in a field that needs it. At DEP, I hope to learn more about how buildings can reduce their energy use in order to create a more sustainable county. 

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