Surrounded by water, South Floridians know the problems that come with climate change, sea-level rise and extreme weather events. Heavy downpours bring flooding, hurricanes force a surge of water onshore and both cause polluted stormwater to run into precious coastal waters.
A team of FIU engineering and architecture students is tackling the issues with innovative solutions and, in the process, receiving accolades. The group won first place in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2021 Campus RainWorks Challenge, Demonstration Category.
Each year, dozens of teams from across the nation bring their best project proposals to improve the environment and the health of communities to the competition. It’s the second first-place finish by FIU in the last four years. They have also had two second-place wins in those four years.
“We have amazing, creative students at FIU,” said lead faculty advisor Arturo S. Leon, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (hydraulic engineering) in the College of Engineering & Computing. “I believe this award recognizes the top-notch, nationally competitive inventiveness and skills of our FIU students.”
The team’s entry, “Resilient MAST@FIU: Adapting the FIU MAST for Living with Coastal Waters Under Extreme Events,” focuses on mitigating the risk of coastal flooding, incorporating more green infrastructure practices and reducing urban heat island effects at the MAST building located on FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus. The facility is used by the Miami-Dade public magnet high school. It includes marine and environmental science labs, engineering and 3D printing spaces and classrooms.
The group worked closely with both FIU and MAST leadership, said graduate research assistant and team lead Sumit Zanje, a Ph.D. candidate from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“Having students from a variety of backgrounds makes it possible for each one to bring their strengths and expertise to the project,” he said. “It allows us to have a broad perspective.”
The project team
In addition to Zanje, the student team was made up of Gisselle Gutierrez and William Campbell from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Jennyfer Hernandez, Matthew Nuzum and Elena Passoni from the Department of Architecture; Pratik Mahyawansi and Juan Arzuza Toledo from the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering; and Akash Dodani from the Department of Construction Management.
Additional advisors on the project were Biayna Bogosian, Ph.D., of the Department of Architecture; Nicholas Ogle, of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education; and Matthew Welker, EdD, principal of MAST@FIU BBC. Danny Paán, director of Physical Plant, served as the FIU Facility Coordinator.
Using sophisticated tools such as FIU’s storm surge simulator and software for modeling heat island seepage flows, studying water quality and running a variety of sea-level rise scenarios, and performing a cost-benefit analysis on their proposals, the group narrowed its recommendations.
Solutions include raising a perimeter road to prevent flooding, installing green infrastructures to reduce stormwater runoff and using permeable pavement for part of the existing parking lot. Green infrastructure helps retain rainfall and reduce runoff, lowers air temperature and improves air quality, reduces erosion and provides a safe habitat for wildlife, among other benefits.
The team has also suggested adding multipurpose smart pavilions to provide gathering spaces and outdoor classrooms to address a request by the FIU and MAST communities.
Past FIU entries in the EPA contest were (click on the year to see the project video):
- 2020 – Second place, Demonstration Project Category, for improving water efficiency at the campus engineering center
- 2019 – First place, Master Plan Category, for using replicable green infrastructure practices at the Biscayne Bay Campus
- 2018 – Second place, Master Plan Category, for mitigating stormwater pollution and flooding to make the Modesto Maidique Campus more resilient
“The breadth of expertise and innovation in these designs demonstrates that today’s students are more than capable of solving the challenges of stormwater management and protecting public health and the environment in communities everywhere,” the EPA wrote in its announcement of the 2021 RainWater Challenge winners.