MBA students regenerate the water supply

Photo credit Justin Cheng

Photo credit Justin Cheng



A team within Mason’s Executive MBA program has used their in-class learning to produce real-world results.

Four students in the Critical Infrastructure track have produced a development plan to provide DC Water with a microgrid to generate reliable energy for its facilities.

Luke Robertson, Kim Schubin, Bob Cross and Andrew Rovnak completed this proposal as their capstone project within Mason’s new Critical Infrastructure track. These students, who completed their program last spring, were the first to complete the newly established track within the Executive MBA program.

There are several steps that DC Water uses to treat wastewater, and some of these processes generate electrical power. Under the current system, this electricity is not harnessed in any way. The Critical Infrastructure team was able to develop a system that uses this power and routes the electricity back into regular functions of the facility. This not only reduces DC Water’s energy costs but also produces enough power to keep vital functions running in the event of a power outage.

“As a civil engineer, it was clear to see how all these blocks fit together,” Robertson said.

Mark Troutman, the director for Mason’s Center for Infrastructure Protection and Homeland Security in the School of Business, founded the Critical Infrastructure track and served as project advisor for the DC Water project. This capstone project was an opportunity for students to expand the techniques and strategies they have learned in the classroom to real-world applications. It also required students to produce a consulting report with possible solutions and a briefing to their project sponsor.

After a visit to DC Water’s facilities, the team observed “a real dependency on the power network,” Troutman said. This dependency meant that DC Water could face an operational standstill in the event of a network emergency.  

This multidisciplinary project was “the first time anybody had gone from a business point of view and looked at individual costs,” Troutman said. This required business expertise, an understanding of wastewater treatment facilities, financial analysis and technical engineering knowledge.

Robertson, with his professional experience as a civil engineer, said “This jumped out as a great potential project.”

Between October 2015 and April 2016, the team researched DC Water’s needs, background, other case studies where micro-grids were used for water utilities and completed a financial analysis of the project.

Maureen Holman, the sustainability chief of DC Water, worked with the team to ensure that DC Water’s needs and operations were understood. This power assessment was a project Holman was eager to see done.

In completing this proposal, this team was able to provide a service to DC Water that they would have otherwise lacked the resources for.

At the conclusion of the project, Holman asked the team to present their findings to the Board of Directors Environmental Quality and Sewerage Services Committee. The proposal was well-received and is undergoing evaluation to assess whether DC Water wants to pursue the installation of a microgrid at its facilities.

Students enrolled in Mason’s Executive MBA program are largely professionals who have 30 or 40 years of experience in their respective industries. These mid-career professionals come from areas ranging from nuclear engineering to business management to insurance specialists. According to Troutman, the resulting diversity “adds a richness to this program that is very rare.”

As a student in the program, Robertson was impressed with the quality of students Mason was able to recruit. “This was a great group of people to work with across the faculty and students,” he said.

Most of all, Robertson was excited to work with a team. Robertson explained that his engineering work has mostly required individualized projects.

“Our group did quite well, and we were received well,” Robertson said. “And that’s because of how well we worked as a group.”