A service learning project of Stan State science students generated light-bulb moments for teens in Turlock and rural Kenya.
Physics majors taught Dutcher Middle School students about electricity and assembled solar suitcases in lunch-hour solar science club sessions at the school last fall. PG&E in partnership with We Share Solar, a Berkeley-based education project, sends the assembled units to electricity-needing schools around the globe.
The Stan State College of Science received word of the delivery of the Dutcher Science Club’s Solar Suitcases through a raft of thank you letters from a girls’ secondary school in Nyanza District, Kenya.
“Previously, the school had to rely on generators, lanterns and flashlights to light the school, and they are costly, unreliable and unsafe,” explained Alli Pemeri of the We Share Solar organization. “The solar suitcases will be used to light the classrooms, staff room and science laboratory to increase study time, teacher prep time and add much-needed security. They will also be used to charge teacher cellphones, laptops and headlamps, which are important for safety and communication.”.
Dorcas Oyugi, principal of the WISER (Women’s Institute for Secondary Education & Research) Girls High School in Kenya, said “This support has enabled the girls to do their studies both at night and during the morning preps without interruptions. This solar connection is an invaluable contribution touching the study life of our students in special way.”
The school works to change the lives of women in communities characterized by extreme poverty and deeply entrenched gender roles. Forced marriage, early pregnancy and a high incidence of HIV/AIDS end the school days of many girls there. WISER provides an alternative for 360 children selected by need and academic potential.
The tiny power plants from Turlock have extended the time Susan, 14, can have light to read, she wrote in a thank you shared with Stan State. “I enjoy reading my notes in every subject and when I am bored I read novels,” she said in her letter.
Joan, 16, thanked the Turlock students for a thrifty light source, which will benefit several schools in her community. “I would like to inform you that the portable solar suitcases were also shared with other schools around. We have plenty of sunlight this side of the world,” she wrote.
Jenifer, 15, noted solar is a clean and economical alternative to coal-generated electricity. “I really enjoyed learning about solar installation. I would like to be an electrical engineer in my future, and I will supply light to every house. Thank you so much.”
Bringing future students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields figures into the College of Science outreach to Turlock schools, said Miriam Ureno Moreno, Stanislaus State STEM VISTA outreach coordinator.
University science majors who take part in service learning opportunities like the solar suitcase program also benefit, said Biology Professor Mark Grobner, who helped set up the program at Stan State. They tend to be more engaged in their field of study and graduate sooner, leaving with community service hours on their résumé.
Solar energy powered other explorations as well. “We included the solar suitcases in Science Day, a Science Saturday exploring green technology and a Science in the Park activity at Patterson, providing power for our displays and activities,” Grobner said.