JUMPing Into STEM with Johnson Controls
April 18, 2024

Above: Student competitors present their solution in the 2024 JUMP Into STEM competition, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office. (Source: JUMP Into STEM)

By Lizzie Stricklin, Communications Manager, BCSE

Across the country, the clean energy transition is underway – with the private sector driving investments in energy-efficient technologies, manufacturing, clean energy generation, and more. Amid this growth in clean energy industries, front of mind for many BCSE member companies is workforce development. How can clean energy industries encourage students and other early career professionals to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)?

For BCSE member Johnson Controls, a unique public-private partnership provides the opportunity for the company to interact with a diverse group of students who are passionate about building decarbonization – and demonstrate how the students’ academic interests can be practically applied post-graduation.



Since 2021, Johnson Controls has participated in JUMP Into STEM, a building science competition for U.S. undergraduate and graduate students organized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Building Technologies Office. The program seeks to inspire the next generation of building scientists, assembling an interdisciplinary mix of majors and representation by students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in STEM. Over the course of a school year, student teams from across the country prepare solutions to DOE-written challenges, ultimately competing for internship opportunities at three participating national laboratories – Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), or Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). In 2023, 255 students participated on nearly 80 teams from across the country.

Encouraging students to create innovative solutions for sustainable buildings is an exciting prospect for Johnson Controls, an international company that offers the world’s largest portfolio of building technology, software, and services. In 2023, Johnson Controls became a JUMP Into STEM sponsor, paving the way for student travel to – and participation in – the final competition.


“We are thrilled to join forces to bring talent, technology, and vision together to tackle the nearly 40% of global greenhouse gases that come from buildings.”


“Empowering the next generation of diverse, talented women and men to develop their capabilities and then reinvent buildings to create a safe, smart, sustainable future is a core to Johnson Controls,” said Mark Lessans, Johnson Controls’ Director of Regulatory and Environmental Affairs and a BCSE Board Member. “We are thrilled to join forces to bring talent, technology, and vision together to tackle the nearly 40% of global greenhouse gases that come from buildings – showing how cutting carbon and costs in buildings is one of the smartest and fastest priorities we can put to work for the climate.”


Creating Innovative Solutions for Real-World Problems

The yearly JUMP Into STEM competition begins at the start of every school year, when the three DOE national labs release three new challenges based on DOE’s current focus. These prompts challenge the student teams to invent new solutions in energy storage, energy-efficient insulation, circular economy for building construction, and more. At the final competition, student teams are judged by a panel of experts from the private sector, DOE, the national laboratories, and academia.

Johnson Controls’ Mark Lessans participated as a competition judge in 2024. He was most impressed by projects that worked in conjunction with heating and cooling equipment, finding innovative ways to store hot or cold energy during off-peak hours that is ready to deploy when buildings need it most. Mark said that these solutions tackle some of the problems Johnson Controls and other players in the industry face at a systems level.

“We’re able to keep making the equipment more efficient, but we’re still dealing with challenges related to peak electric capacity,” he said. “It’s an important challenge for society to address as we continue to grow and electrify end uses. Managing load on the grid is going to be critical.”


Fostering Diversity in Building Management

Inspiring students from diverse backgrounds and academic paths to engage with building decarbonization is an underlying goal of the JUMP Into STEM program. The competition works with a team of professors to craft new challenges and mentor student participants. DOE actively partners with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions, and minority-serving institutions to bring a diverse group of professors and students to the table.

In addition, student competitors are challenged to create their solutions with diverse, real-world stakeholders in mind. With their project submission, the student teams are required to submit a tech-to-market plan identifying the stakeholders for their project – and specifying the practical applications of their building technology.


“Diversity within the building science profession is paramount for comprehensively understanding the behaviors and requirements of all building occupants.”


“Diversity within the building science profession is paramount for comprehensively understanding the behaviors and requirements of all building occupants,” said Melissa Lapsa, Building Technologies Program Manager at ORNL. “To foster this diversity, it’s essential to attract a broad range of college and university students to careers in building science. The JUMP into STEM student competition addresses this need by inspiring students from diverse backgrounds to use creative ideation to solve real-world building science problems.”


Partnerships for Workforce Development

Johnson Controls’ participation in JUMP Into STEM complements the company’s other workforce development initiatives. Johnson Controls’ Community College Partnership Program, for example, enables the company to partner with community colleges across the country to support their HVAC, fire, security, and digital academic programs. Employees of Johnson Controls serve as volunteer educators and student mentors, providing advice and real-world experience. Program participants are also eligible for internship and full-time employment opportunities with Johnson Controls.

Through these programs and more, Johnson Controls employees build connections with the communities they work in and invite new voices to join the industry.

“Investing in STEM education is key to growing qualified and future-ready leaders,” said Julie Brandt, Johnson Controls’ Vice President and President of Building Solutions North America. “Programs such as JUMP into STEM introduce students to rewarding and in-demand careers that will be an integral part of guiding our sustainable future. We look forward to seeing this partnership build the next generation of innovators.”

About the author: Lizzie Stricklin is the communications manager for BCSE.

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