Aerial view of San Diego.

“Urban Legos” by Karon Elliott Edleson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Note that this challenge was for the Fall 2021 competition. 

The objective of this challenge is to develop holistic solutions to improve the resilience of the built environment, making equity a central focus of the proposed solution by strengthening the ability of communities—especially those that are underserved, marginalized and vulnerable—to adapt, persist, and recover in the event of natural or manmade disruptive events.


People across the globe are experiencing an increased frequency and severity of disruptive events,1 including record-setting heatwaves, winter storms, extreme rainfall, floods, drought, wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, chemical and biological hazards, and fires. These events—natural or manmade— cause damage to natural and built environment and infrastructure, and threat to public health, safety and well-being. They result in interruptions or loss of essential services that adversely impact access to potable water, sanitation, food, energy, safe air, livable indoor conditions, communication, and transportation. The heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, the wildfires in California, the 2021 winter storms, and the COVID-19 pandemic are just a few of the recent examples.

Communities that are underserved, marginalized and vulnerable typically face a significantly larger challenge in the event of such stresses and often lack the capacity to recover. These communities include those that experience barriers to social, economic, political, and environmental resources due to ethnic and racial discrimination, low socioeconomic status, disadvantaged background, illness, or disability; communities located in rural areas or impoverished urban sectors; and populations at a higher risk for poor health. Globally, between 1996 and 2015, 68.3% of all the people who died due to natural hazards belonged to lower-middle and low-income groups.2,3

Resilience is the ability to adapt to, persist in the face of, and rapidly recover from a potentially disruptive event.4 Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to these stresses.5 Equitable resilience brings together the strategies for resilient design that account for the social distribution of those stresses and responses and aims to also strengthen the resilience of disadvantaged communities.6

Strategies to improve the resilience of buildings, communities, and infrastructure focus on robustness, resourcefulness, rapid recovery, and redundancy. Robustness is the ability to maintain critical operations and functions in the face of a crisis. This includes the building itself, the design of the infrastructure (office buildings, power generation, distribution structures, bridges, dams, levees), or system redundancy and substitution (transportation, power grid, communications networks).

Resourcefulness is the ability to skillfully prepare for, respond to, and manage a crisis or disruption as it unfolds. This includes identifying courses of action and business continuity planning; training; supply chain management; prioritizing actions to control and mitigate damage; and effectively communicating decisions. Rapid recovery is the ability to return to and/or reinstitute normal operations as quickly and efficiently as possible after a disruption. Components of rapid recovery include carefully drafted contingency plans, competent emergency operations, and the means to get the right people and resources to the right places. Redundancy means that there are back-up resources to support the originals in case of failure.7

Strategies for improving resilience of buildings include all aspects of building structure, enclosure, energy systems, operations, and building use.8 Community-level strategies require a multipronged approach, using a combination of mandatory upgrades, incentive programs, funding mechanisms, and education/outreach programs to develop more resilient building stock. These may also include smaller or more incremental strategies to gradually improve resilience or institute larger-scale coordinated programs to respond to critical deficiencies. Depending on the hazards, these strategies may also include redefined functions of buildings and creating community facilities (resilience hubs) that can serve during emergencies and interruptions to services.8

Many technologies are emerging to improve the resilience of the U.S. building infrastructure and electricity grid. For example, smart grid technologies use communication and information technology to collect information on the behavior of customers and to automatically work to improve efficiency and reliability in distributing electricity.9 Microgrids10with distributed energy resources11 include small-scale units of power generation which operate locally and are connected to a larger power grid at the distribution level, thereby improving the quality and reliability of service.12 Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings have an optimized blend of energy efficiency, energy storage, renewable energy, and load flexibility technologies enabled through smart controls.13

The idea that resilience is a positive trait that contributes to sustainability is widely accepted. Yet some recent studies identify situations where promotion of resilience for some locations may come at the expense of others,14 or enhancement of resilience at one scale, such as the level of the community, may reduce resilience at another scale, such as the household or individual.15,16 Equity concerns often arise due to uneven patterns of resilience. Therefore, additional work is needed to identify ways that these research and implementation efforts penetrate to the underserved communities and do not reinforce existing inequities or create new ones.17



The Challenge

The first step to meeting the equitable resilience challenge is to understand the vulnerability that various communities face, and then address the vulnerability for equity and resilience cohesively. Students may consider strategies for achieving resilience at the building scale or community scale for new construction, existing buildings, or communities. A community could be a small neighborhood or a geographic region of any scale. Students may develop solutions guided by the Resilient Design Principles18 and utilize available resilient design tools.19,20

Students should develop a problem statement related to building or community resilience that includes a challenge for making resilience more equitable. Student submissions should:

  • Describe the scope and context of the problem based on a real problem(s) in the United States.
  • Identify affected communities, making sure to include underserved, marginalized and/or vulnerable communities.
  • Develop a holistic solution to address the problem at a building scale or a community scale. The solution should include technical aspect as well as non-technical aspects such as policy or economic solutions. At a building scale, solutions may focus on new building designs or existing building retrofits.
  • Discuss how issues of equity are incorporated into strategies to promote resilience.
  • Discuss appropriate and expected impacts and benefits of the proposed solution. These may include quantifiable and nonquantifiable benefits,21 such as health and safety of affected population, size of community affected, number of households relocated, avoided cost of losses, loss of businesses, loss of lives, etc.
  • Develop a plan that describes how the team envisions bringing its idea from concept to implementation. For example, a technology-to-market plan for a commercially viable, market-ready product for real buildings and communities, and/or integration into the planning and design process.

Downloadable Challenge Description


Competing in this challenge is open to student teams currently enrolled in U.S. universities and colleges. See the Terms and Conditions for eligibility requirements. Please note that all team members must have completed the Building Technologies Internship Program (BTIP) application or declined internship consideration when the idea is submitted.

Please submit the following as one PDF document.

  • Project Team Background (up to 2 pages, single-spaced)
    • Form a team of 2‒4 students. These students represent the project team and will all consult on the problem.
    • The Project Team Background should include:
      • Project name, team name, and collegiate institution(s)
      • Team mission statement
      • A short biography for each team member; this should include information such as major, level (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, graduate), and other relevant background information such as experience with building science, future career goals, and formative experiences that shaped each individual’s contribution to the Challenge.
      • Diversity statement (minimum 1 paragraph, 5‒7 sentences): One of JUMP into STEM’s key objectives is to encourage diversity of thought and background in students entering the building science industry. There is a diversity gap in STEM, meaning that certain groups are underrepresented or have been historically excluded from STEM fields. These groups include, but are not limited to, those based on race, ethnicity, and gender—and this gap needs to be addressed. Diversity of thought can be achieved through teams consisting of students from different majors and minors. If there are barriers to entry present that affect the racial, ethnic, and/or gender breakdown of your team, please elaborate. As part of the next generation of building science thought leaders and researchers, you have a unique opportunity to influence this industry. The diversity statement is your opportunity to describe your team’s diversity of background and thought, both generally and as applicable to your chosen Challenge.
    • The Project Team Background does not count toward the 5-page Project Challenge Submission.
  • Project Challenge Submission (up to 5 pages, single-spaced)
    • Select 1 of the 3 Challenges to address.
    • Investigate the background of the Challenge and consider related stakeholders. Stakeholders are those who are affected by the problem, a part of the supply chain, or manufacturing of the technology product(s), as well as those who may have decision-making power and are able to provide solutions (technical or nontechnical solutions, such as policies). For example, you could include stakeholders who have previously experienced environmental pollution or a high energy burden. Refer to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Justice and Environmental Justice initiatives, as DOE plans to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of climate investment to disadvantaged communities.
    • Write a 1- to 2-paragraph problem statement, focusing on a specific aspect of the problem and the stakeholder groups affected by or involved in the problem. The stakeholder groups can be from a specific location, socioeconomic status, age, or demographic (e.g., people living in subsidized housing). The problem statement should clearly identify the injustices (energy or environmental) that the stakeholder group experiences. Students should consider social implications related to the identified injustices.
    • Write a holistic solution that addresses or solves the specific problem from your problem statement. A holistic solution is one that includes a technical component as well as one or more of the following components, as appropriate: economic, policy, commercialization, codes and standards, and/or other. Address the requirements for your selected Challenge. Include graphs, figures, and photos. Discuss how your solution will impact your stakeholders, especially those who have experienced the injustices that you described in your problem statement.
    • Develop a technology-to-market plan or a market transformation plan, depending on the chosen Challenge.
      • A technology-to-market plan describes how the team envisions bringing its idea from concept to installation on real buildings, or integrated into the design of real buildings, and includes a cost/benefit analysis. This does not need to be exhaustive and should include comparing the solution to current or existing technologies or practices. Benefits, such as building energy reductions and improved occupant health or productivity, should be evaluated. The plan should also identify at least one key stakeholder barrier for implementation (in addition to cost) and address how the proposed solution will overcome that barrier. The plan should also discuss what key stakeholder(s) should be involved to commercialize the technology and then sell and install the technologies with your target market(s).
      • A market transformation plan describes how the team envisions increasing the adoption and use of the already commercialized idea in the market, including sales or distribution channels, outreach mechanisms, and other relevant details. The plan should also describe who the team would partner with to implement the idea (e.g., utilities) and how the collective team would increase market adoption.
    • Include references. References will not count toward the 5-page maximum.
  • Appendix (optional, no page limit)
    • Teams may wish to add an appendix. This is optional and might not be reviewed by the judges.
    • The appendix has no page limit.

Please submit the following information to the corresponding submission prompts on The abstract and image for Challenge winners and Challenge finalists will be published on the JUMP into STEM website.

  • Abstract (up to 250 words)
    • Please include an abstract of your project. The abstract may be displayed on the website.
  • Image (file size limit: 5 MB; filetype: .jpg)
    • Please submit an image that represents your project. This can be a photo or a figure from your paper. The image may be displayed on the website.

Evaluation Criteria

Solution (40%)

  • Holistic Solution: a technical solution, as well as one or more of the following components, as appropriate: economic, policy, commercialization, codes and standards, or other. How well does the proposed solution address the problem?
  • Feasibility: overall feasibility and potential, including viability.
  • Novelty: the originality and creativity of the solution and how significant the contribution will be to the building industry.
  • Applicability to stakeholders: how well the solution addresses the problem statement and associated stakeholder community.

Market Readiness and Impact (30%)

  • Technology-to-Market Plan or Market Transformation Plan: depending on the Challenge, either a technology-to-market plan or a market transformation plan is required, including cost/benefit analysis and identified key barrier(s) for stakeholder implementation, along with how the proposed solution will overcome the barriers. In addition:
    • For technology-to-market plans: How feasible is the proposed plan to bring the solution from a paper concept to installation or integration with real buildings or building designs?
    • For market transformation plan: How feasible is the proposed solution at providing market intervention and increasing market adoption?)
  • Market characterization and readiness for proposed idea: description and understanding of the market and stakeholder group, and how the solution will create value, both economic and other, to drive industry adoption.
  • Impact: the overall potential impact of the solution. For example, can the solution be extended to communities, similar stakeholder groups, or a nationwide solution?

Diversity and Justice (20%)

  • Diversity statement and project team background: how well the team addresses the diversity gap in the building science industry in their diversity statement. This includes how the team brings perspectives from a variety of backgrounds including students from groups that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This also includes students from many different disciplines—ensuring diversity of thought. (See the diversity statement section in the challenge requirements.) This also includes how well the teams connect their mission statement and biographies to their problem statement.
  • Environmental and Energy Justice: how well the proposed solution addresses environmental and energy justice.

Submission (10%)

  • Submission Requirements: how well the team follows all submission requirements. 


  1. Harvey, Chelsea. 2018. “Extreme Weather Will Occur More Frequently Worldwide.” Scientific American. February 15, 2018.
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Architecture + Planning. 2021. “Equitable Resilience, 2018-2021.”
  3. United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. 2016. “Poverty and Death: Disaster and Mortality, 1996-2015.”
  4. National Infrastructure Advisory Council. 2009. Critical Infrastructure Resilience: Final Report and Recommendations by National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC).
  5. Resilient Design Institute. 2021. “What is Resilience?”
  6. Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism. 2019. “Equitable Resilience: A Necessary and Under-Investigated Aspect of Sustainable Urban Systems.”
  7. Whole Building Design Guide. 2018. “Building Resilience.”
  8. Boston Green Ribbon Commission Climate Preparedness Working Group. 2013. Building Resilience in Boston: Best Practices for Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience for Existing Buildings.
  9. US Department of Energy. 2021. “The Smart Grid: An Introduction.”
  10. US Department of Energy. 2014. “How Microgrids Work.”
  11. US Department of Energy. 2021. “Distributed Energy Resources for Resilience.”
  12. US Department of Energy. 2021. “Solar Integration: Distributed Energy Resources and Microgrids.”
  13. Rocky Mountain Institute. 2021. “Grid-Interactive Energy-Efficient Buildings (GEBS).”
  14. Pike A, Dawley S, and Tomaney, J. 2010. “Resilience adaptation and adaptability.Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 2010, 3:59-70.
  15. Adger, W, Arnell, N, and Tompkins, E. 2005. “Successful adaptation to climate change across scales.Global Environmental Change 15:77-86.
  16. Sapountzaki, K. 2007. “Social resilience to environmental risks: a mechanism of vulnerability transfer?Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal 18:274-297.
  17. Liechenko, R. 2011. “Climate change and urban resilience.Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 3:164–168.
  18. The Resilient Design Institute. 2021. “The Resilient Design Principles.”
  19. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “US Climate Resilience Toolkit.”
  20. US Green Building Council. 2018. “Resilient by Design: USGBC Offers Sustainability Tools for Enhanced Resilience.”
  21. Whole Building Design Guide. 2020. “Consider Non-Quantifiable Benefits.”