MENTOR INTERVIEW: Dan Vlacich – Engineering

Photo of Dan Vlacich

When Dan Vlacich steps onto the WaterShed construction site, the team is not only benefiting from his extensive knowledge and expertise in electrical and PV systems, but occasionally, free labor. “I’ll take any chance I can get to play with power tools,” says Dan, who is eager to pitch in wherever there’s a need. And with two previous decathlons under his belt (he participated in 2005 as a student and mentored in 2007), he also brings a breadth of experience that can provide WaterShed students a leg up in the competition.

A 2005 Maryland grad with a degree in engineering, Dan has been sharing his solar energy know-how since the very beginning. Below Dan talks about mentoring and the importance of green technologies.

What has been your favorite aspect of working on WaterShed?
DV: I think the best part for me is when the students don’t understand something / need to learn something new, and one day it finally “clicks” for them. There are a lot of moments like that for the team dealing with the electrical/PV system.  It’s a good feeling to know you taught something that really sunk in.

What do you hope the students take away from working with you on WaterShed?
DV: No matter what career path you take after college, there are some things you learn in Solar Decathlon that are always applicable.  Even though I don’t install solar energy systems for a living (though I used to once), I have learned skills I continue to use, like how to install/repair home electrical systems. Not to mention working on a team, dealing with tough deadlines, and how to “stick with” something even though it might be difficult.

What have you learned from working with the students this year?
DV: Every time we participate in the Solar Decathlon, our students seem to come up with designs that are more and more challenging to design and build, in terms of both the engineering and the architecture.  But somehow, they always come with up creative ways to make it work.  It has forced me to learn some new things and get better at thinking outside the box.

How important are competitions like the Solar Decathlon in respect to the future of architecture, building technology, and construction?
DV: VERY… As the years progress we are going to have fewer energy sources but increased demand.  We need to promote conservation, renewable energy, and sustainability, and incorporate them into our design philosophies, construction, and operation of our buildings.  The Solar Decathlon provides a good forum to test new technologies and show people that “green” technologies can really work.

What do you hope people will take away from WaterShed when they visit it on the Mall in September?
DV: That renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainability are things we really need to take seriously, and that it isn’t all that hard to incorporate some of the things from the Solar Decathlon (whether buying something that is more efficient, or simply changing our habits) in our everyday lives.  Also, it’s important for them to see that the University of Maryland is a leader in promoting these practices and preparing our students for jobs in these types of industries.


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