Students advise Citizens Energy on steam plant efficiencies

Seven University of Indianapolis students partnered with Citizens Energy this semester to gain real-world work experience through the Partnership for Excellence in Research and Learning (PERL) initiative.

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The PERL project creates mutually beneficial connections in Indiana communities. Students gain professional development opportunities in a collaborative environment, while businesses receive fresh insight into industry challenges. The project helps foster critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, both key areas of focus to a University of Indianapolis education.

Kirk Bryans, assistant director of business, entrepreneurship, sports management and marketing, Professional Edge Center, said programs like PERL are important to the University on a couple different levels: Students get exposure to working with professionals in the community trying to solve real world problems and find ways of doing things better. Working within a cross functional team provides students real life team building scenarios which normally doesn’t happen until you are in the midst of your first job.  

Our employer partners are experiencing the power of a University of Indianapolis education,” Bryans said. “They recognize how incredible our students really are. Each interaction is a win-win as both parties exchange information.”

The University group includes students pursuing diverse areas of study: Carsen Alber (environmental sustainability/criminal justice), Liz Behrends (information systems), Grace Buck (human biology), Casey Brock (supply chain management), Xavier Ortiz (chemistry), Kyler Nichols (accounting) and Holly Cox (chemistry/biology).

The students were tasked with identifying ways to improve efficiencies at the Perry K Steam Plant in downtown Indianapolis. The goal was to find environmentally friendly solutions that also would minimize consumer costs moving forward.

The students toured the steam plant several times, analyzed data from Citizens Energy, met with employees from the steam plant and broke into smaller task groups to achieve their goals, spending about 45 hours on the project from September to November.

In December 2017, they presented findings and recommendations to about a dozen industry experts.

Highlights included streamlining a spreadsheet used for reporting water consumption at the plant, reducing time spent on the task from two hours to about two minutes. They also evaluated methods used in the water treatment process, investigated hydro-electric generation in plant systems to offset purchased power and identified technologies to measure the inlet flow into the plant water system.

“We were thrilled to have the UIndy students engaged with our steam business,” Ann McIver, director of environmental stewardship, said. “Their independent views of our plant water system allowed them to “Challenge the Process,” one of our core leadership practices. Their recommendations may allow us to offset our cost of electricity, and their advanced spreadsheet knowledge will bring time savings to steam personnel on a routine basis.”

The experience also provided valuable insight into how a cross-functional team operates and allowed the University students to directly impact their community.

“It’s not everyday that we get to work with people from different majors to help an organization so prevalent in central Indiana,” Nichols said. “This project really taught me how to work with people that think differently than I do and how to balance my time between classes and my other obligations.”

Levi Mielke, assistant chemistry professor, supported the PERL initiative with Bryans by generating the scope and description of the project, interviewing and selecting candidates and acting as liaisons between the University and Citizens Energy.

“We successfully brought together an interdisciplinary team of students to tackle a project bigger than themselves,” Mielke said. “We have the best students at UIndy. Not only have they become content experts, but can apply their knowledge and adapt to new learning situations while providing a valuable community service.”

Watch this short video to learn more about the Professional Edge Center.