Amy Kim is an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Prior to earning her PhD from Texas A&M University and joining the UW faculty, she spent several years working as a project engineer and architect on large public infrastructure projects. She now researches ways to quantify and decrease energy consumption and indoor environmental quality within buildings. She also advises one female PhD student and several undergraduates, as well as teaches courses such as “Sustainability in Building Infrastructure” and “Construction Engineering.”
How has Dr. Kim fared as one of the few females in her field? “Although it can be a challenge, I try to also see it as an opportunity. In some cases, I think women have an advantage because they are fewer and therefore noticed more often than men in my field. I have tried to use it as a as a competitive advantage. Being a little different can be a good thing.”
The following are questions and responses from an interview with Dr. Kim:
Q&A: Professional message and current work
Q: What message(s) would you like people to take away from your work?
A: As an engineer, it is easy to overlook people’s needs in the midst of equations and algorithms and systems. Even if a building is high-tech and functions well, it is important that the people working within the building are comfortable. In other words, energy efficiency interventions within the building sector are important but it is also important to balance how occupants within those buildings interact with the system. For example, I have been deploying equipment to not only measure and monitor the energy consumption in buildings, but also to help individuals save energy by using a tool/app to regulate the use of appliances. What I have found is that for various reasons, occupants either do not engage with using the tool or, even if they do, the excitement and use decreases over time. For that reason, my work involves not only engineering but also understanding a little bit about cognitive psychology, communications, and behavioral economics as well. For future engineers, I would like to encourage them to think about the users of the systems and how we can align the development of systems or strategies for successful implementation.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: For one of my current projects I am evaluating the indoor environmental quality at a high-performance building on campus. My team has found that although this building is supposedly “high-performance”—meaning that it has a lot of sensors and that a lot of the system is automated—that people who work within the building prefer to have control over their personal spaces. We see a conflict between the building’s automated control systems and employees’ personal needs. For example, an employee may prefer a different temperature in her office and open a window, which affects the automated temperature system. I look at the relationship between people and the systems that my team designs and implements. As I explain above, it’s important that my work remain people-centric.
For another project, I am studying the lighting quality of an office space to enhance the performance, health and wellness of the employees. My team is gathering data to understand how to maximize natural light penetration, offer good color rendering, and to reduce glare.