Building Connections between Duke and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority

September 22, 2014

By Jordan Thomas

A word to the wise: if you are going to organize a large event, do not underestimate the power of free parking and good food. This was just one of the unexpected lessons from our recent conversation with Mishel Filisha of the New York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). NYSERDA administers the Low-Income Forum on Energy (LIFE), a venue for highlighting low-income energy issues in New York State.

The LIT HoMES team, which along with faculty and staff members, includes a doctoral student in Earth and Ocean Sciences, graduate students in Environmental Management, and undergraduates from Engineering and Environmental Science, is pursuing the challenging work of designing and implementing a 2015 regional summit focused on first-time homeownership as it relates to consumer energy use. Staff at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority have faced similar challenges in developing statewide conferences in recent years. In mid-September, our team met with Filisha to learn about her experiences organizing LIFE events.

Filisha graciously donated time to speak with us and share some lessons from her experience as a conference organizer. Here are a few of the takeaways:


o   Having a “crash course” at the start of a conference on a complex topic like energy can acclimate participants to some of the terms they may not be familiar with and set the stage for productive conversation.

o   Having a facilitator that is able to translate ideas and terms between disciplines (ideally through examples) will hopefully keep everyone on the same page.


o   One of the biggest challenges will be getting people to the event. We will need to make sure the agenda clearly has an item appealing to every group we would like to attend.

o   Free parking and having food available will be noticed and appreciated by attendees.


o   We will want to consider encouraging network building, perhaps through a game or activity. At the LIFE 2014 Statewide Conference, they encouraged networking through a raffle game.

Metrics for success

o   We will want to keep the objectives of the project in mind and consider surveying attendees afterwards, with both quantitative and qualitative questions. Our conversation with Filisha left us eager to begin making headway on our conference. There is a lot of potential to make a positive difference in the lives of everyday homeowners and the environment through LIT HoMES and, thanks to Mishel Filisha, we are now significantly closer to effectively tapping in to that potential through a well-designed conference. Plus, now we’re all excited for a catered lunch.