Over the course of two years, The New School, a New York City university established in 1919 by philosopher John Dewey and other prominent Progressive Era scholars, partnered with the Stevens Institute of Technology, a private research university in Hoboken, New Jersey, founded in 1870. The partnering universities entered—and were selected as one of 20 finalists of—a biannual, international competition among higher education institutions to design and build an energy-efficient house. Typically, the competition draws significant public attention because of its focus on showcasing innovative technologies to advance energy savings. (All 20 finalist houses—this time, including the New School–Stevens “Empowerhouse”—are displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC.) As well, the competition spurs innovation among students and provides an extraordinary “real-world” educational experience. Five of us who worked on this project discuss the challenges and benefits of an inter-institutional approach that also centered on collaboration with multiple community partners including Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC, several DC government agencies, and community-based organizations in the DC neighborhood of Deanwood, where the competition house would ultimately be relocated and reconstructed as a two-family Habitat for Humanity residence. The project involved more than 200 students over a multiyear period working on and employing their academic preparation in areas including community engagement, advocacy, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, environmental policy, sustainability management, fashion design, lighting design, organizational change management, urban policy, environmental studies, architecture, and product design.
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