Update 17 Jan 2012: After a semester back at Etown, it seemed like a good time to provide an update on my collaboration with UTG (The University of The Gambia). Let me start with the two projects the students completed last spring. Unfortunately, I have heard very little regarding the health center in Gunjur. Yet, Dr. Momodou Jain just let me know that he is going back to the health center with a group of students to help improve the situation there.
This site will likely be one of the sites for student design projects this coming semester. Dr. Jain has 10 students registered for the de sign course I taught last spring. He will be running that course at UTG, and we are going to try a couple of new collaborations coupled with that offering. I will be giving lectures similar to those I put together last year for UTG on total design methodologies at Etown this spring, for our Junior level design course. We will be recording these sessions and transferring the videos to UTG over the web (we’ll see how that goes – but we think by keeping the resolution at a reasonable level we can make it work). Momodou will then use these videos with his students at UTG. I hope to have a team of Etown students collaborate with the UTG students on one of their projects. The Etown Students will start a project this semester as 3rd year students and then continue the work through their senior year as a senior capstone project.
Over the summer, Jeremiah at MEHDA implemented all of the students’ recommendations. MEHDA was the other site the students worked at last spring. He and the others at the center were delighted with the results. “The system has never work ed this well.” Staff that were at MEHDA back when the PV system was 1st installed could not believe Jeremiah’s reports of the performance. They also installed the second water tank, now that we are moving into the thick of the dry season I’ll be interested to hear if the pump can keep up with all their watering needs on the farm plots. They were unsure of what the need was, but the pump installed will be able to replace daily usage at a level between the capacity of one and two tanks. The extra capacity allows the system to supply daily needs even on days with some cloud cover or atmospheric haze. There are not a lot of cloudy days this time of year, but a hazy day with dust and sand in the atmosphere can be common to varying degrees.
Another great outcome from last spring occurred over the summer. Early in the rainy season a village requested help from the students from the PV and Design courses. They wanted to install a PV power system in their local mosque. The students in consultation with Dr. Jain agreed to take on the project. The students designed and installed a system meeting the needs of the mosque. The funding for all materials for the system was provided by the local community. At last report the system was running beautifully. I could not have asked for a better example of how we hope the model we are using for this collaboration can work. This problem was solved by Gambian students and funded by a Gambian village, with no outside interaction – I didn’t even know this had happened until the system was installed and running.
This fall Momodou and I also formalized our collaboration with faculty and students at Rowan University. Rowan students have been working through Engineers without Borders for several years on projects based in The Gambia. As I discussed last spring, one of the primary challenges for their work had been very limited connection with Gambians (outside the villages they are working with). This led to difficulties associated with a lack of understanding of local cultural dynamics effecting their designs and logistical issues due to managing a technical project in West Africa from New Jersey, with essentially no connection to the village apart from occasional short term (2 weeks) trips. This past weekend (14 Jan) three students and one faculty member (Dr. Hong Zhang) from Rowan arrived back from such a trip. But this year, Momodou and a team of UTG students collaborated with the Rowan team. The UTG students worked in particular with a project investigating the use of peanut (tiyo – Mandinka) shells as a cooking fuel. The UTG students collected shells and made sample briquettes prior to the Rowan team’s arrival. The collaboration started during the fall semester and then continued through the trip (and now beyond). The students and Dr. Jain traveled to the project sites with the Rowan team and in the words of Dr. Jain the trip was “very interesting and successful.”
Dr. Jain, Dr. Jennifer Kadlowec (Rowan) and I teamed up on a couple of papers coming out of these efforts. Both papers have been submitted to ASEE for peer review. If they are accepted for publication they will be available online – I’ll provide the link at that time. Also on a fun personal note, I was able to continue my djembé drumming with the Congueros ensemble at Etown. James Armstrong (http://www.jdapercussion.com) leads this group and I have had a blast playing with them.
Update Spring 2012: Six students in our Junior year design course (EGR391) elected to investigate initiating a project centered on tackling off grid power needs in The Gambia and other developing countries. After starting with a very broad concept of wanting to tackle some project to help improve power availability in The Gambia the team developed a specific problem statement.
To develop a sustainable business model and appropriate technology to make power available for charging electronics, such as cell phones and laptops, for Gambians who are off the grid.
The sustainable business model implies a structure where any solution will be affordable for Gambians to purchase and all revenue supports fair pay for employees of the business. The model envisioned was supported and clarified by Dr. Muhammad Yunus in his beautiful and moving presentation on campus in April's Ware Lecture on Peacemaking (http://www.muhammadyunus.org/).
Dr. Yunus describes this business model as a Social Business.
In the Fall, the team will be joined by 3 non-engineering students. Two Political Science students who spent Fall 2011 at UTG in The Gambia will bring a strong understanding of local culture and the sociopolitical structures into the business model side of the project. They will collaborate with an International business major, who after seeing the EGR391 student's presentation on Scholarship Day (http://www.etown.edu/programs/scad/), decided to join the team.
The problem of charging cell phones is significant. When I was teaching at UTG in the classroom literally every outlet had multiple devices plugged in charging. Students were able to charge their phones on campus, but away from campus charging the phones can be difficult and expensive. Most Gambians have cell phones (although land lines are rare) and many have several since rates within a single carrier are much lower than calls that cross carriers. We also view this project as a platform for other products and applications.
In March two of the Rowan students came out to Etown to present a report on their trip in January to our engineering seminar students. It was a great chance to give the students a chance to connect with each other. Late in the semester the Etown EGR391 students Skyped with a group of UTG students regarding the cell phone charging project. Another fun connection, and helpful for fostering a new partnership. We are hoping to arrange a site visit to The Gambia around this project for January 2013.
Dr. Momodou Jain (UTG) and I collaborated in the classroom a bit this spring as well. Dr. Jain was offering the project based design course I introduced at UTG last year. This second offering of the course had 10 Gambian physics students enrolled (the 7th UTG commencement (Convocation Ceremony) is pictured as held at the new University Village Campus). At the same time I had 21 Etown engineering students enrolled in a parallel course, so each week we recoreded video of the classroom presentations (on much the same content I developed last year at UTG) and made those videos available for use at UTG. It was not trivial to get the videos into a practical size and format, but we got it to work.
At this summer's ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education) meeting I presented two papers, along with Dr. Jain and Dr. Jen Kadlowec (Rowan University), on these collaborations.