What makes a Virginia Tech summer?

Maybe it's a hot, sunny day paired with a scoop of ice cream from Sugar Magnolia; or the campus tours of first-year students eagerly getting to know their new home; or maybe it's a four-mile hike to iconic McAfee Knob.

For three rising juniors, summer at Virginia Tech is researching environmental impacts on behalf of the university's Climate Action Commitment through Engineering Education's new summer internship program, RISE-UP (Research, Internships, Service, Experiences - Ut Prosim). 

Led by Jennifer Benning, instructor in Engineering, the first RISE-UP cohort comprises Josh Cole, in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Samuel Jamison, in Mechanical Engineering; and Levi Heizer, also in Mechanical Engineering, (all students from the VT NETS program).

With their project partner Engineering Services (part of the Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities), the team is conducting research on asset management, zero net energy, and Virginia Tech's own energy mix to help the university achieve its goal of becoming a leader in climate action.

Get to know Sam, Josh and Levi with our Q&A!


S: I have been looking for a way to get practical experience that will help in my career later on. It has also been beneficial to me to contribute to research that will be used and can make a difference, rather than merely solving problems that were generated to teach a concept. 

J: When I received the VT-NETS scholarship they told us that one summer they would grant us the opportunity to conduct research at the university, so I've always had that in the back of my head since my time at community college. Before the pandemic, I was already curious as to how academic research was conducted, and after I was definitely curious! For me, this was the best summer to do it. So I filled out the application with Dr. Lee and VT-NETS and I was placed in RISE-UP!

L: I'm interested in the automotive industry and greenhouse gases are a big part of new automotive developments.

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What are you most excited for with RISE-UP? What are you excited to learn?

S: This one is difficult because I look forward to a lot of different elements of it. Although I do look forward to continuing to work with my peers on this project, getting to know them better, and presenting my project, I am most excited for being able to interact with the professor on an individual level with specific feedback, as opposed to a group/classroom setting as in the semester.

J: I didn't know much about what I was gonna do but I was happy that it was about climate change. I keep hearing mixed things about it so I'm looking forward to diving into it and learning more!

L: I'm excited to learn about agrivoltaics and how we can realistically power the university entirely with renewables.

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What aspect of RISE-UP research are you leading? What about this research appeals/speaks to you?

S: I am working on research to assist the university in the development of a zero net energy building by 2026. This project has challenged me to grow in knowledge and scope compared to what I have done in the past. Seeing so many creative and varying solutions that have been explored in the past for this problem has also been a particularly fascinating element of my research.

J: I am leading the Asset Management project. It's probably the least interesting one for the layperson, but I think it's the most important one. While it doesn't directly deal with all the more popular green technologies like wind turbines, it does lay the foundation for them to exist on our campus. Good Asset Management is going to give us the resources to be able to implement and integrate things like solar panels or zero-net-energy buildings onto our campus. I like to think of Asset Management as the bridge between our good ideas and intentions around climate change to the challenges we must face to make those ideas a reality.

L: I'm working on the energy mix that Virginia Tech uses to power campus. I like that a lot of problems we have are essentially really big thermodynamic problems.

Want to learn more about RISE-UP? Connect with Dr. Jennifer Benning!