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Secret Ingredient Jazzes Up Solar Decathlon Team

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2009 edition of the School of Engineering’s newsletter, Horizons in Engineering.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2009 edition of the School of Engineering’s newsletter, Horizons in Engineering.

Kentucky Fried Chicken has its 11 secret herbs and spices…The Big Mac has its secret sauce…And the SCU-CCA Solar Decathlon team has a secret ingredient of its own that jazzes up the mix, adding flavor, zest, and spice: It's Fr. Jim Reites, a member of Santa Clara’s Jesuit community and indispensible teammate.

With his endless supply of energy, infectious laugh, and no-nonsense, do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-the-job-done attitude, "Papa" Reites is an essential and beloved member of the team who has been inspiring students at SCU since he joined the community in 1975.

Reflecting on SCU’s experience with the 2007 U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar

Decathlon, Tim Hight, chair of the mechanical engineering department and faculty project leader for both the 2007 and 2009 Solar Decathlon teams, said Fr. Reites "always seemed to be around when something needed to be done, and outworked most of the team in terms of energy and enthusiasm. His understanding of so many aspects of the house, whether electrical, plumbing, controls, etc., means that he knows how the whole house works and how to fix it if it doesn't."

Allison Kopf, '10, student project leader for the '09 team, calls Fr. Reites "one of the most enthusiastic, hard-working people I've ever met. His pride in the project and excitement about the process encourage students to work to their fullest." James Bickford, BSME '08, who led the student team to their third place victory in 2007, agrees: "Fr. Reites is the Energizer Bunny of the Solar Decathlon program. He is an all-around great guy with a big heart, can-do spirit, and energy becoming that of a 20-year-old."

Though he has traveled the world and studied everything from engineering and math to music and the classics before pursuing theology in Berkeley and Rome, his New Orleans roots resonate when he talks about his Solar Decathlon experience, infusing his words with a beat and rhythm befitting a jazz musician. "Fascinating coolness," he says, "… to figure out something difficult, to imagine how to make it work, to watch it perform....that's fascinating coolness. It's a delight. To be a part of a team, working on something really complex and hard. To have that flash of insight that tells you how to make something cool happen. To watch the faces of the students as they make connections, realize that they just did something brilliant...and they became knowledgeable, learned. All of this is fascinating coolness. You can't really describe it, you know. You have to live it. Work hard through it. Then you know. You know why something like this is so great. Why it's a joy, a delight."

Secret ingredient; Energizer Bunny; indispensible teammate; no matter how he is characterized, one thing remains constant: Fr. Reites is a joy, a delight, and a blessing to the Solar Decathlon team.

Father Reites, Solar Decathlon

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