Weathering D.C. in the Name of Sustainability

Over the summer, the MSU EcoCAR 2 team had the privilege of spending 2 weeks in Washington D.C., but the trip was not just an ordinary summer vacation. On the contrary, the trip was filled with different forms of excitement. The team was there to help its good friends at the Smithsonian Institute celebrate the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

This celebration entailed spending two weeks on the National Mall under a spacious tent dedicated solely to the MSU EcoCAR team. The venue gave the university and the team valuable exposure in the nation’s capital. It was an opportunity for students, faculty and staff representing the university to interact with people from around the country and all over the world.

Held annually since 1967, the festival this year celebrated the 150th anniversary of the 1862 enactment of Morrill Act that created land-grant institutions such as MSU. This year’s theme, “Campus and Community,” also commemorated the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Within the “Campus and Community” theme, MSU served as part of the sub-theme called “Sustainable Solutions” alongside such projects as the University of Tennessee’s Living Light solar house that competed in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition.

A total of 18 institutions of higher learning participated this year, each with exhibits to demonstrate their respective contributions to the modern land-grant system. The MSU EcoCAR 2 team was honored to be counted among those 18 and especially privileged to be a part of Mississippi State’s presence on the Mall which had one of, if not the largest presence during the festival. In addition to the EcoCAR exhibit, the University brought representatives from its Vet school as well as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Designed to be interactive, each MSU exhibit engaged the public with hands-on activities.

The EcoCAR tent was designed to have many different focus areas where visitors could learn about the AVTC program, MSU’s technology and history in the program, and the need for these emerging technologies. Within the tent, the team housed its vehicle from EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge, a driving simulator, a video board and an area dedicated to Outreach activities for all ages.

The official count for those who attended came out to be over 545,000 which is a number that probably would’ve been higher had it not been for the ‘land hurricane’ that swept over the city of D.C. during the festival. The windstorm resulted in a downed cell tower, power outages that affected thousands and also lots of damage to the festival exhibits, including MSU’s. The team’s tent fell down on the EcoCAR, and its displays also received some damage, but thanks to the wonderful work of the Smithsonian staff and volunteers, the festival was back up and running only 2 days following the storm. The most important thing was that no one was hurt throughout all of the chaos and ‘excitement’.

Other excitement stemmed from the visitors to the team’s booth, one of whom was Dr. Mark Keenum, Mississippi State University’s President. MSU was also paid a visit by representatives from the Department of Energy as well as quite a few engineers from Siemens who were in the area for a conference. Beyond any of the specific individuals who visited the tent, it was truly astounding to be able to reach out to such a diverse audience that the Festival drew in. One moment team representatives would be discussing different options for alternative energy sources with a family from California, and the next moment they would be talking to an individual from Poland about potential solutions for charge time in lithium-ion batteries. It was a great experience to take part in conversations with people ranging in their opinions, their levels of understanding, and in what topics they took an interest in.

The days spent in D.C. were filled with extreme heat & humidity (and sometimes extreme weather), freshly squeezed lemonade, and thousands of valuable discussions with visitors about everything from the competition and the MSU vehicle’s technology, to the University and how the team’s presence has impacted Mississippi. The Festival truly provided a platform for our team to stand on and convey meaningful messages to people they wouldn’t normally get a chance to speak with, and for that, MSU thanks the Smithsonian Institute.