Service at the heart of electrical contracting student chapter


By Mariah Chuprinski

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A student group in Penn State College of Engineering’s Department of Architectural Engineering is making an impact, both in the lives of its student members and in the surrounding community.

The Penn State Student Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), open to all Penn State undergraduates, is known for its opportunities in networking, leadership growth and service.

Each year, the group develops a project proposal for the Green Energy Challenge sponsored by NECA National’s research arm, ELECTRI International. In the competition, student groups from across the country choose an existing building on which to conduct a study and write an energy efficiency improvement proposal. They perform an energy audit on the internal and external elements of the building, propose solutions to decrease the building’s energy consumption, develop a construction schedule and financial estimate and propose a financing plan.

“We get to pick a building and propose mechanical, exterior envelope and electrical system updates using the latest technology,” said Taylor Schoch, fourth-year architectural engineering major in the structural option and treasurer of Penn State’s NECA student chapter. “We also engage with the community surrounding the project to get the locals involved and make them aware of the energy-saving goals of the project.”

Students work hand-in-hand with NECA-affiliated construction contractors to develop the proposal plans throughout the process. It is this close interaction with and mentorship of industry leaders that attracts students to the group.

“We connect the students with contractors close to their project’s location,” said Jeff Scarpello, executive director of the Penn-Del-Jersey chapter, NECA. “It’s beneficial to both sides; students get hands-on work experience with industry mentors and NECA contractors get to meet and work with the incredible students who they might eventually employ.”

In 2018, the student chapter developed a Green Energy Challenge proposal for a nonprofit community center operated by the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia, an organization that provides spaces for underserved children to play, learn and grow in low-income neighborhoods.

That proposal was chosen as a national finalist, and the students traveled to NECA’s 2018 Convention in Philadelphia to present their proposal, which won second place overall in the competition.

“We had a student leader for each of the different facets of the project, like community outreach, sustainable energy, construction scheduling, building envelope, project management and more,” Schoch said. “And a few of us presented the project to the whole conference. Based on our presentation, we ranked second.”

Penn State’s NECA student chapter won NECA National’s “Chapter of the Year” designation in 2016. Though they did not make it to the Green Energy Challenge finals this past fall, the group still attended the 2019 Convention in Las Vegas to watch other teams present and to network, a trip that is partially sponsored each year by NECA’S Penn-Del-Jersey and Western PA chapters.

In addition to the Green Energy Challenge and the annual convention, student members also take part in a service project throughout the year through a program called the Student Passport Initiative, which seeks to improve electrical accessibility to underserved communities in the United States and abroad.

“These are special students who do terrific work,” Scarpello said. “They could use their free time in any other way, but they have chosen to give of their time and make a difference for people in need. I am impressed every year by the students who participate in the project.”

In years past, the group took trips to Honduras to install solar panels in areas that needed electricity, replacing costly diesel fuel that had to be shipped from other countries. In 2017 and 2018, the group installed solar panels to power a water pump, supplying running water to two communities.

NECA’s Penn-Del-Jersey and Western PA chapters have sponsored over $50,000 in scholarships to date and continue to give $4,000 a year to Penn State engineering students. The chapters host an annual tailgate before a Penn State football game to announce scholarship winners and recognize student leadership.

The wider goals of NECA and its student participants extend to the macro-scale: battling climate change while ensuring that the electrical construction industry continues to thrive.

“Together we are working to implement the future of clean energy sources,” said Somayeh Asadi, faculty adviser for Penn State’s NECA student chapter, graduate programs officer and assistant professor of architectural engineering. “Transitioning from coal and oil, students position alternate energy forms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and break the cycle of climate change.”

The Department of Architectural Engineering encourages engineering students in any stage of their academic careers to join Penn State’s NECA student chapter. Contact Somayeh Asadi, the group’s adviser, at to get involved.


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Megan Lakatos