STEM Students Build Solar Cell Panels for Puerto Rico

Students sitting on grass
June 5, 2018

Thanks to an interdisciplinary, faculty-driven Academic Service-Learning (AS-L) project held during the Spring 2018 semester, children in hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico now have solar cell panels to charge cell phones and other devices.

Four faculty members, representing various science, technology, engineering, and mathematics  disciplines, attended the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) conference, “Transforming STEM Higher Education: Discovery, Innovation, and the Value of Evidence,” in November 2017. In addition to leading a series of workshops on what they learned through the Center for Teaching and Learning, the faculty cohort brought students together to make solar cell USB chargers for an elementary school that does not have reliable electricity due to Hurricane Maria. Their efforts were featured on Fox 5 NY.

The project was managed by Chair and Associate Professor of Chemistry Alison Hyslop, Ph.D. Students taking University Calculus I with Florin Catrina, Ph.D.; Advanced General Chemistry II Recitation with Richard Rosso, Ph.D.; and Scientific Inquiry with Paula Kay Lazrus, Ph.D.; along with the Society of Physics Students led by Charles Fortmann, Ph.D., participated and represented the University divisions of Mathematics and Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, and the Institute for Core Studies.

“We felt that we needed to do something for Puerto Rico,” said Dr. Hyslop. Following the AAC&U conference, she and the other faculty members, along with Bryan W. Hall, Ph.D., Associate Dean, reached out to AS-L, which already had a connection to the public school, Escuela Segunda Unidad Botijas #1 in Orocovis, Puerto Rico, through Nuestro Ideal. This organization promotes and develops innovative ideas for the cultural, educational, and economic benefit of the people of Latin America throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The University supported the purchase of materials, and approximately 80 St. John’s undergraduate students created the panels. The solar panels charge any device connected to a USB cable within a few hours, allowing the elementary school students in Puerto Rico to access the Internet.

The St. John’s students posted reflection videos and shared information with each other through Blackboard. “The project was very admirable and a great act of kindness that all universities and people should strive to achieve in life, because those who help will one day need help,” said David DeLuca, a sophomore Chemistry major who participated in the project.

“Making these solar cell chargers has helped us as students connect the topics we learn in the classroom with important issues around the world,” said sophomore Chemistry major Spela Kunstelj. “This helps us to see the importance of science in everyday life and how our education is a tool in helping others. Personally, this experience has inspired me to continue using science to advocate for issues of social justice and for the environment. We are using our practical skills to help others in need.”