Campus as a Living Lab: Classroom Collaboration with Physical Plant Gets Attention of CSU Board of Trustees

In April, the California State University announced the establishment of the CSU “Campus as a Living Lab” grant program to fund innovative classroom sustainability projects that merge academics and facilities management to provide students with high impact, hands-on learning.  At its May board meeting, the CSU Board of Trustees heard how CSU Dominguez Hills is already doing just that.

From l to r: CSU Chancellor White; Erika Randall, CSU Community Engagement STEM2 coordinator; Mary Ann Rodriguez, CSUDH vice president of administration and finance; Kenny Seeton; Jonathan Scheffler, CSUDH director of physical plant; Judy King; John Epps, CSUDH associate director of physical plant; Judy Botelho, CSU director of community engagement; Elvyra San Juan, assistant vice chancellor of capital planning, design and construction; and Meaghan Smith, CSU principal planner/project manager

Earth sciences lecturer Judy King and central plant manager Kenny Seeton were invited to speak before the Board of Trustees about their experience working collaboratively on student projects in King’s fall 2012 Natural Resources GEO 420 class.

Intending to incorporate a service learning component for the class, King came up with the idea of having her students develop practical suggestions for energy and water efficiency for the campus. The students worked with Seeton to gather information and then shared what they learned from various audits they conducted, ranging from measuring drips per hour of a leaky faucet to computing the savings new solar LED lights could have in a parking lot.

“The fact that their projects were on campus made investigations easier and connected them to and fostered pride in their campus and its staff in a whole new way,” King told the trustees. “Students also learned that things don’t always run smoothly … This kind of ‘messy/uncontrolled’ living learning lab experiment gave 30 of my students the opportunity to apply critical skills learned in the classroom… and make those skills more meaningful.”

The university benefited as well.

Due to the timing of the class projects, Seeton was able to involve students in a lighting retrofit that he was working on for the university. Students conducted inventories of current lighting usage and researched the energy savings pros and cons of various products on the market, which contributed to selecting a system by Enlighted Inc. that is now installed in portions of Welch Hall and the South Academic Complex 2 (SAC-2) building. Supportive of the university’s collaboration with students, Enlighted partially sponsored the project by donating sensors for the SAC-2 classrooms, and Southern California Edison has given its support as well. Executives from both companies also visited campus to meet with the students.

For more on the lighting project read “University Retrofit Project Sheds Light on Energy Savings

“It was very rewarding to be part of a project where the students’ hard work proved to have such an impact on both the students and the campus,” Seeton told the trustees. “We also expanded the frame of reference or paradigm of many students who previously only saw the university as a location to go to class, study hard, and earn a passing grade. Now we have brought into their collegiate world utility company representatives, large corporate employers, and especially facilities workers from campus.”

The CSU Board of Trustees reactived positively to the presentation with Trustee Rebecca Eisen saying, “One of you said that this was a win-win. I’d call it a win-win-win-win-win, with the planet being one of the winners in what you have done. I am so impressed and so optimistic about what CSU can do to solve this great problem.”

A video archive of the CSU Board of Trustees meeting with King and Seeton’s presentation is on the CSU website at Their presentation is at the end of the video titled “Day 1, Part 2.”


  1. Vivian Price says:

    Great work! I love hearing about service learning projects on campus that involve important collaborations like this one.

Speak Your Mind