Buildings-Focused STEM Education Program Reaches Important Milestone

  Design Team Completes BIM for Mars City Facility Ops Challenge

Jul 24. 2014 -- The Mars City Facility Operations (Ops) Challenge—a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program geared toward introducing high school and community college students to building sciences—is getting ready to roll out nationwide in fall 2015 now that a building information model (BIM) of the Mars City facility is complete.

Mars City serves as a virtual environment for inquiry and learning opportunities around STEM disciplines. The Facility Ops Challenge, developed by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), Total Learning Research Institute (TLRI) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), empowers students to perform as facility managers responsible for maintaining a virtual base on Mars while learning about building systems and the importance of teamwork. In order to get the project ready for use, a team of professional designers from KieranTimberlake, Gilbane Building Company and Alderson Engineering generated the BIM, which will be an instrumental component of the Challenge.

“The objective is to interest students in careers in building science by giving them an authentic experience of what professionals do,” said Dr. Kerry Joels, president of TLRI. “The team-based, challenge-based Mars City Facility Ops Challenge allows students to realistically try to maintain the base with professional maintenance software and operations scenarios developed by teams of FM [facility management] professionals. The fact that Mars City is a virtual, sustainable base on the red planet makes it that much more interesting. Supporting curriculum to teach maintenance basics, Mars environment and career guidance and opportunity round out a robust program. We at TLRI are really excited about the NIBS initiative and our close partnership.”

Utilizing the Construction Operations Building information exchange standard (COBie), the Challenge program team also entered the data contained within the BIM into a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), which will serve as the mechanism for high school students to manage the day-to-day requirements of Mars City.

“We were fascinated by this group’s vision to take the advanced BIM tools that architects use to communicate complex geometrical and technical data, and apply them to achieve a very different set of objectives,” said James Timberlake, FAIA, partner at KieranTimberlake. “This was a great opportunity for our firm to translate our day-to-day processes and ‘pay it forward’ to the next generation.”

“From the first Moon Landing 45 years ago, to my own experience reading the Space Shuttle Operator’s Manual as a child, space programs have inspired young people to explore new frontiers in their lives,” said Jerry Shaheen, LEED AP BD+C, a project executive at the Gilbane Building Company. “I may never have gotten to orbit, but Gilbane’s involvement in this project has meant we get to pay it forward and use new technologies to inspire a whole new generation of engineers and technicians.”

“When we first started working on the Mars City project we were excited about the opportunity to contribute to a STEM educational program,” said Travis A. Alderson, PE, LEED AP, CBCP, principal of Alderson Engineering, Inc. “As an engineering firm, our success largely hinges on the continued development of young, talented, future engineers who will enter the construction industry. We look forward to finding new ways BIM can be used for STEM educational purposes that can also be incorporated in our own practice and real-life situations. Thanks to everyone who we worked with on this project.”

After completing the test scenarios, the teams will pilot the Facility Ops Challenge at selected high schools and community colleges during the 2014-2015 school year, with a full roll out in fall 2015. The Challenge is partnering with the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) and its chapter network across the country to implement the program.

“There is grave concern across the building industry that the next generation of workers will not have the skills needed to perform the increasingly complex tasks of designing, constructing and maintaining high-performance buildings,” said Institute President Henry L. Green, Hon. AIA. “Through the commitment of leaders like KieranTimberlake, Gilbane and Alderson, and the support of industry associations such as IFMA, the Mars City Facility Ops Challenge is working to address these concerns in a highly engaging way.”

The Challenge, in addition to increasing exposure to building science in the classroom, is pioneering the role of the facility manager in the real world. The program demonstrates a new approach to virtual facilities management that the building industry will be able to adopt as a best practice. Like the Mars City virtual base, projects using BIM-based design can compile, before a shovel hits the ground, a database with more than 85% of the data needed to maintain a building. In the real world, utilizing such data prior to construction allows facility planning; operations and maintenance staff training; preventive maintenance scheduling; and disaster planning from the very beginning of a project.

Individuals, firms and organizations are encouraged to participate in the Mars City initiative, which serves to advance the entire building community.

Learn more about this groundbreaking project. Get involved. Donate today.

Mars City BIM Model

High school and community college students will use this BIM model of the Mars City virtual base to generate facilities management scenarios.


About the National Institute of Building Sciences

The National Institute of Building Sciences, authorized by public law 93-383 in 1974, is
a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that brings together representatives of
government, the professions, industry, labor and consumer interests to identify and resolve
building process and facility performance problems. The Institute serves as an authoritative
source of advice for both the private and public sectors with respect to the use of building
science and technology. 

An Authoritative Source of Innovative Solutions for the Built Environment

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