Penn State students compete in 2016 Green Energy Challenge

The Penn State student chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) is designing an energy upgrade for the State College School District’s Park Forest Middle School as part of the Green Energy Challenge. From left, Bill Hughes, Park Forest Middle School teacher and NECA school contact, Nikhil Bharadwaj, Phil Badman, and Bret Jablonski discuss solar panel system on roof of Park Forest Middle School.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A team of students from the Penn State student chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) is competing in ELECTRI International’s 2016 Green Energy Challenge Competition. Teams are judged on their ability to analyze particular electrical construction management “problems” outlined for them and create a comprehensive plan and budget for an appropriate retrofit. The competition is intended to provide university students and faculty advisers with an engaging and fulfilling annual event that will foster meaningful interaction between students and NECA member companies.

“NECA and the Green Energy Challenge specifically is a perfect way for me to gain experience in a career field and work with real-life professionals. I love how it gives me so many opportunities while also giving me valuable experience,” said Jennafer Hakun, chapter treasurer and outreach team leader.

This year, the Green Energy Challenge is charging collegiate teams throughout the U.S. to design an energy upgrade for a K-12 school facility in their community that incorporates the design of a small-scale photovoltaic (PV) system, which will serve as a teaching and learning tool for students. 

For their project, the Penn State team chose to work with the State College Area School District’s Park Forest Middle School. The team completed an energy audit and an entire lighting retrofit of the building; designed a solar PV system to be integrated into the school; and developed a timeline and financial plan for the construction of the solar panels and lighting retrofit.

From left, Nick Kolesar, Bill Hughes, Park Forest Middle School teacher and NECA school contact, Nikhil Bharadwaj, and Phil Badman discuss a wind and solar power monitoring system. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

To support the engagement of teachers and students in energy and sustainability education, the team will partner with Penn State’s student chapter of the American Solar Energy Society to participate in Park Forest Middle School’s STEM Day to discuss the benefits of solar energy on April 20.

The Green Energy Challenge is a great opportunity for students to get involved in real-world experiences.

"I joined NECA because it allows me to apply lessons learned in the classroom to real-life scenarios. Being an active member of the chapter will provide me with the skills and network needed to be successful in the energy industry,” said Bret Jablonski, chapter president and construction management team leader.

“I joined NECA because as an electrical engineering major, I found it advantageous to experience and learn more about circuits and real-life-related problems that electrical contractors work on every day, in addition to what I learn in labs and lectures,” said Denny Jung, public relations chair and lighting team member.

Other students joined NECA to help further their career.

“I joined NECA to gain valuable technical skills and to expand my network,” said Nikhil Bharadwaj, special projects chair and solar PV system team member.

"Joining NECA was one of the best decisions I made in college. I have gained so many valuable skills and experiences. Overall it has been very rewarding, and facilitated me landing a great job with a NECA contractor in California. This is one of the best student organizations for industry exposure, hands-on project-based learning, leadership experience, public speaking and team working skills. Not to mention that it is fun and provides to ability to travel,” said Gabriella Reese, former vice president of the NECA student chapter.

The team will submit its proposal on April 4. A jury of contractors and industry partners will evaluate the team proposals and the top three student teams will be invited to present their plans at the 2016 NECA Convention and Trade Show in Boston in October and compete for the top prize. The Penn State chapter placed second in the 2013 Challenge and third in the 2009 Challenge.

Team members include:

  • Phil Badman, energy engineering
  • Nikhil Bharadwaj, energy engineering
  • Jiye Choi, energy engineering
  • Jennafer Hakun, energy engineering
  • Rachel Hennessey, energy engineering
  • Bret Jablonski, energy engineering and energy business and finance
  • Denny Jung, electrical engineering
  • Nick Kolesar, energy engineering and energy business and finance
  • Paige Marshall, energy engineering
  • Dian Pan, energy engineering and energy business and finance
  • Gabrielle Reese, energy engineering
  • Dan Wells, energy engineering

The NECA Penn State student chapter welcomes new participants to join its team for next year’s Green Energy Challenge. Any student interested in joining the team can contact Bret Jablonski at

For more about the Green Energy Challenge, visit

Last Updated April 01, 2016