Providing unique international educational opportunities is central to the holistic educational mission of the Sustainable Technology Program at Appalachian State University. Since the first experiential trip in 2006, the program has engaged students in unique international experiences with hands-on learning and technology transfer. This paper highlights study abroad programs to Costa Rica (2017 and 2018) and Peru (2018) that designed and implemented autonomous photovoltaic systems for lighting and cell phone charging for rural communities without access to electricity.
The technical components of designing a stand alone solar power system are many including: 1) load analysis, 2) battery and array sizing, 3) charge and load controller selection, 4) installation, and 5) cost analysis. Prior to departing, students participate in designing, prototyping and installing the system. These efforts have produced an open-source set of plans. The “Appalachian Street Lamp,” is an inexpensive system that can be deployed to remote locales that can access a cellular network but do not have grid power.
These field courses emphasize key learning outcomes including: 1) use essential math and science skills to solve applied science problems, 2) formulate, design, or develop a system, process, or program to meet desired needs, 3) demonstrate the capacity to function in project teams, and 4) use the techniques, skills, and technical tools necessary for professional practice in the discipline.
A survey designed to assess program impact was sent to all 37 study abroad participants in September 2018. 22 responses were recorded that answered five questions related to technical proficiency and global competency. An average response of 4.90 was recorded across all questions using a Likert (1-5) scale. A final open-ended comment section revealed many testimonials stating the positive educational impact.
As educators, we see great value in getting students out of their comfort zones. Developing international courses with hands-on work projects can create unique transformational opportunities and become a platform for piquing student interest and motivation. This paper chronicles developing this program, the technical system, and the impact of learning technical skills in a study abroad context.
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