STEM Students Build Solar Phone Chargers to Aid Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico
St. John’s University students from several disciplines banded together on an Academic Service-Learning (AS-L) project to aid in Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria by designing and building solar phone chargers that will be shipped to children at a local elementary school in that country.
The project originated with Bryan W. Hall, Ph.D., Associate Dean, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who received strategic priority funding from the University to pursue an interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) project.
“Faculty members came up with the idea of an interdisciplinary service-learning project where they could bring together students from three different classes—Calculus, Chemistry, and Scientific Inquiry—as well as the Physics Club,” he explained.
Dr. Hall consulted with Lynn Stravino, Director of Academic Service-Learning, and the Vincentian Institute for Social Action to help connect his students with a group that would most benefit from this project. “When Brian reached out to me with the proposal we were very excited about it,” she observed, adding, “The challenge was to find the right community partner.”
Louis E. Saavedra, a Coordinator in the AS-L office, contacted Nuestro Ideal, an organization that promotes social justice efforts throughout Latin America. They will ship the chargers to Escuela Bojitas, the elementary school in Puerto Rico. St. John’s students recently participated in a WebEx conference with the children there to explain the process and also made instructional videos for them on how to make more for their family and friends.
“This project is very much mission-aligned,” Dr. Hall stressed. “You have the Vincentian component of bringing educational opportunities to those most in need; the diversity of the student body coming together to make this happen, including native Spanish speakers providing translation to the students in Puerto Rico; and you have global outreach.”
Dr. Hall and Ms. Stravino are working on more educational opportunities for St. John’s students to interact with children in Puerto Rico. “We already started the conversation of how we can continue to work with them,” Ms. Stravino said. “It is great that AS-L is helping to popularize STEM,” said Florin Catrina, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.
Richard J. Rosso, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Chemistry, agreed. “For the STEM students to take something they learned in class and apply it to something that is real-world, is really eye-opening. They are making a difference with science.”
Communication Arts major Sahara Crawford appreciated the experience. “As a Catholic, Vincentian, metropolitan, and global University, this type of project is exactly what we should be doing. It is also celebrating our diversity, with students from various classes participating. It’s a great way for us to come together, communicate, cooperate—and serve others.”