Director of Engineering and Utilities Believes Empowered Teams Ensure Energy-Efficient Operations

Picture of Kevin Turner, Director of Engineering and Utilities for Georgetown University
Picture of Kevin Turner; Georgetown University’s Director of Engineering and Utilities.

Kevin: Hi there. My name is Kevin Turner. I’m the Director of Engineering and Utilities for Georgetown University, in the Planning and Facilities Management department. I help lead the team that manages the Georgetown Energy Partnership and implements great energy efficiency, and utility modernization projects.

Mallini: Have you been doing that for as long as you’ve worked in Georgetown? How long is that?

Kevin: Yes, I have for the six years I’ve worked here.

Mallini: That’s amazing! Could you talk me through what an average workday looks like for you from start to finish?

Kevin: So, I start by getting to work. I like to walk around campus a little bit, whether I take the bus or walk to work. I make it a point to check out any active construction sites or mechanical rooms where I know something’s going on when I have the time. Sometimes I’ve got to get straight to emails and meetings, but within the day I try to find pockets of time to collaborate with our partners, and check in with my team on the projects they’re working on.

Mallini: That sounds very varied. Do you have a favorite part of your day that you look forward to?

Kevin: Oh yeah, there are certain favorite projects that I have. I’m also a big, big lunch guy *laughs*. But definitely, there’s some projects that are more fun than others. I like being able to sit down with my team members and help them figure out the best solutions to challenges they’re having on their projects. That back-and-forth is always enjoyable to me.

Mallini: That’s really cool. Could you talk us through the thought process that goes into supporting your team?

Kevin: For sure. I’m keenly aware of the challenges my team is facing, so I try to be involved with them, brainstorm ideas and really figure out the best way to approach the issue. Whether it’s a process improvement and we’re trying to figure out what’s actually causing this process issue, or if it’s an engineering project, where we’re getting into the technical aspects of the work, our goal is to find the best path forward that makes the most sense for the university.

Mallini: Sounds like a tricky balance between being hands-on and empowering your team to make fast decisions.

Kevin: It absolutely is. I’ve found that in higher education or engineering, a team oriented approach is  necessary to solve complex and nuanced problems. I’m lucky to have a team with diverse perspectives to provide strong solutions, because without different inputs you normally get a one-dimensional solution that just doesn’t work. There are a lot of benefits associated with the team approach, but you only see them when your team is empowered to make decisions and use their own expertise and insight.

Mallini: How do you put that into practice on the daily? 

Kevin: I believe it’s a manager’s role to set expectations with the team and provide a framework for success. You then need to trust your team to meet those expectations. I’m lucky to have a talented and reliable team supporting the department, more so one that works well together. Without the team being empowered to execute, there is no way we could have achieved our  current success.

Mallini: That makes sense. Could you give us an example of the most challenging problem you’ve had to solve, specifically about energy efficiency, and making that change on campus?

Kevin: Yeah, so we’ve been working on a couple projects. We’re doing a study to evaluate the best way to deliver our heating energy. Right now we use steam, but we’re considering some alternative delivery methods. At the same time, we’re working on energy efficiency projects in our buildings as well as on-going maintenance. The energy-efficiency projects typically involve optimizing controls, improving equipment conditions, and replacing or redesigning old equipment. One engineering challenge that we’ve had recently is figuring out how to best align those three initiatives in a way that is cost effective and energy efficient, without having major negative impacts on the buildings that we’re working on. It’s been a  challenge, but an interesting one to navigate.

Mallini: Has there been an energy efficiency project you were especially proud of?

Kevin: I think my favorite efficiency project was my first one, where I led the LED retrofit in SWQ Garage in 2017. We were able to get the project 100% paid for by our partners at DCSEU but other than that it was not smooth sailing. We had to navigate weird work hours (have you ever seen that garage empty?!) and some minor fixture and wiring issues. Despite the bumps, we were able to deliver the project which not only saved a lot of electricity but also made the garage a safer environment!

Mallini: It definitely sounds like it. Did you always know you’d get into work like this? Energy-efficient team management?

Kevin: I think I’ve always been interested in engineering. I was a big Lego guy when I was a kid, it’s definitely been fun. To answer your question, I wasn’t very aware of this area of the field, meaning university facilities. But, as I went through college, I grew an interest in energy and managing projects. This role turned out to be a great marriage of both my university and engineering perspectives, so it worked out great…considering it was a field I wasn’t super aware of to begin with.

Mallini: With that in mind, if you could go back in time and talk to baby Kevin, what would you tell him about the work that you’re doing today? Do you think he would be excited about it?

Kevin: I think he would be! There’s a lot of variety in the work and a lot of different challenges that come up every day, so it’s hard to get bored. One day you might be working on improving the environmental air quality in a certain space, and the next day, you’re talking about optimizing energy consumption via heat recovery chillers in buildings. And then the next day you’re talking about life safety systems in labs, so it’s a lot of diversity, which is a lot of fun. And the team environment at Georgetown is really great. There’s a lot of people with different perspectives, who’re all working towards the same goal. It’s an awesome energy to be around.

Mallini: What is the one thing you would want everyone to do to be more energy efficient to help you and your team do the work that you do every day?

Kevin: I think a big thing is really to just be cognisant of your surroundings. When you leave a room or office at the end of the day, turn off the lights. Don’t crank the AC and leave your windows open. That kind of stuff goes a long way. Remember that there is a whole facilities management team working hard to keep the campus safe and running smoothly for everyone. It’s hard work, so being respectful of the facilities is always going to help make the work easier.