Girls Build Solar Generators for International Schools with The Lawrence

March 8, 2023

A group of young students in Rwamwanja, Uganda, gathers to watch a man bring electrical equipment and a blue plastic case into their classroom. Unbeknownst to them, this small unassuming blue case would change how they learn and study. Inside is a solar energy generator that will provide their classroom with electricity from the solar panel that the man has installed on the school’s roof. Alameda students built the “solar suitcase” with The Lawrence as part of an ongoing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education project funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

Youth Engaged in STEM Service (YESS) is a four-year project of The Lawrence that began in 2020 to develop and study the impact of two different science-focused summer camp experiences for black and brown teen girls in their communities. The camp programs, entitled Empowering Future Solar Leaders, took place at the Alameda Boys & Girls Club, with students recruited with help from other community partners.

“YESS is a highly collaborative project,” said Melissa Collins, Senior Research Lead at The Lawrence and Co-Investigator for the YESS grant. “The program and research teams work closely with two community partners, Alameda Girls & Boys Club and Girls Inc. of the Island City. The community partners were selected based on their alignment with the goals of YESS to offer engaging informal programs for Alameda youth.”

The first camp experience emphasized connecting science concepts to local issues, giving campers a perspective on the impact of solar and other alternative energy sources on their day-to-day lives. Participants learned about natural disasters relevant to their communities and how solar technology can mitigate them.

The second camp experience focused on a model of service learning through a global lens. First, campers learned about global energy poverty, and the potential of solar technology as a solution. Then, together they built a solar suitcase and shipped it to an international community without electricity. The curriculum for this program was based on materials from our partner, We Share Solar. This organization also coordinated the deployment of the solar suitcase to a community without access to electricity. A previous project inspired this camp program with We Share Solar.

Thus far, 72 campers have participated in these engaging new programs, with another 48 campers exploring solar energy this coming summer. The two solar suitcases built by campers were installed in Rwamwanja, Uganda and Busia, Kenya.

Video from We Share Solar about Solar Suitcase installation in Rwamjana, Uganda

“Before receiving these Solar Suitcases, students at the schools had limited access to electricity and relied on generators and kerosene lanterns,” said We Share Solar. “With the addition of the Solar Suitcases to light the classrooms and offices, the students will have extended times to study and prepare for state examinations. Power from the Solar Suitcase will also be used to charge tablets, e-readers and laptops during the day.”

Currently, the YESS teams are preparing for the third and final session of Empowering Future Solar Leaders camps. After this final iteration, the research team will shift to data analysis and dissemination in the final year of the grant.

“The goal is to provide insights to the informal STEM education field on how these types of programs can be effectively designed and implemented to be culturally responsive and to promote positive youth dispositions toward STEM,” said Collins. “The project teams will also collaboratively explore options for sustaining the program in the future through additional grants or other funding streams.”

Recent News Stories