By Saara Lampwalla
CPP Engineering students volunteered a part of their spring breaks to provide Coachella Valley homes with solar technologies.
The students spent a couple of days working for GRID Alternatives, a non-profit organization that strives to bring solar power and solar jobs to communities in need.
The Southern California Engineering Technologists Association is one of the many clubs at CPP that offers students the chance to gain work experience in their respective fields. SCETA works with GRID Alternatives twice a year to offer members service-learning opportunities.
The volunteer team consisted of SCETA members, Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology Professor Gerald Herder’s students and GRID Alternatives instructors. They collaborated to install the energy-efficient solar panels to low-income families’ homes in Desert Hot Springs.
During the trip, students learned how to install solar panel systems and efficiently work in teams. They applied what they learned in their classes to their work atop the roofs.
The students arrived to the installation site on the morning of March 23. Instructors met the students and briefed them on the work sites’ safety measures. Instructors divided students into three teams, assigned each group to a house and demonstrated how to install the solar panels.
The teams completed the majority of the work on the first day. They removed the roofs’ shingles, and established guide rails for the solar panels.
On March 24, students completed the project’s final step by connecting the home systems to Desert Hot Springs. The house owners turned on the solar panels to complete the process.
Second-year engineering technology student Miranda Vazquez said it was a productive work environment.
“No one was just sitting around,” said Vazquez. “Everyone participated, and tried to get their turn at something. Each team actually competed to finish first.”
Aside from demonstrations, instructors observed the volunteers to ensure that safety measures were met. The majority of the work rested on the volunteers’ shoulders.
“[The instructors] didn’t do much of it,” said Vazquez. “They showed us how to do it as an example. But really, it was all of the members [who did the work.]”
GRID Alternatives wants its programs to provide impoverished communities with solar technologies that enhance residents’ lives. Students offered $150 donations, which contributed to the equipment and tools used for the project. The homeowners served lunch to the team members.
GRID Alternatives provided a campsites so students could spend the night. While some students stayed in a Joshua Tree hotel or drove home, others stayed at the campsite and had the chance to get to know one another over s’mores, campfires and stories.
The local media also met students as the event caught wind with several local publications and also one larger one: USA Today.
By the end of the two-day project, students successfully established solar energy systems on the three homes.
Second-year engineering technology student William Cervantes chose to get involved primarily because of the work’s positive experience on the community. Additionally, he wanted to take an opportunity to gain work experience and network.
“In engineering, you want to know the theoretical [information], but also how to apply it,” said Cervantes. “I wanted the experience to go in the field, something [I was] uncomfortable with. But it was also great for networking. I actually met people in SCETA that I didn’t even know.”
SCETA Development Officer and second-year electrical computer engineering student Gregory Lynch emphasized the impact of their work on the community.
“This is helping low-income communities uplift themselves from their economic states,” said Lynch. “Usually lower income families live in polluted environments. [These projects] give them another means of providing for themselves. Solar energy is very cheap and readily available. This is our chance to give back to our communities.”
SCETA collaborates with GRID Alternatives during the fall and spring quarters for service learning projects. The club is working toward establishing an Innovative Tech Expo to provide engineering students with contemporary and high quality technology. They meet on Thursdays, during U-Hour in Building 9, room 247. The first meeting of the quarter will be on Thursday.
Sungah Choi / The Poly Post
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