High school students and TEES engineers partner to provide electricity to <i>colonias</i>

September 19, 2006
| By: Aubrey Bloom

LAREDO, Texas -- High school students from Laredo's two engineering magnet schools are working with researchers in the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) to provide electricity to colonias residents along the U.S.-Mexico border without electric power. Dean Schneider, an engineer with the TEES Texas Center for Applied Technology in San Antonio, said that students in the United High School Engineering and Technology Magnet School and the Laredo ISD Magnet for Engineering and Technology Applications will collaborate with TEES and West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) engineers to build and install four wind turbines in the next two years -- one a year from each school. The students will build the wind turbines from existing plans and install the first two demonstration turbines next spring in a colonia and on the Cigarroa High School campus. The students will also generate a set of instructions that will be translated into Spanish to be understandable by typical colonia residents in the U.S.-Mexico border region. Schneider said the end-product of the collaboration is not the turbines themselves but rather the set of instructions the students generate on how to build and install the turbines. "We're showing the colonias residents that if these students can install these turbines, then they can do it as well," Schneider said. David Canales, director of United's engineering magnet school, and engineering principles instructor Laura Rodriguez said the two teams will focus on different aspects of the turbines: The United students will focus on the turbines' motor generators for power, while the Cigarroa students will build the blades and the storage units for the turbines. Then the teams will switch roles for the final two turbines while also collecting data on the turbines' energy production and performance. "Each of us gets to go through the entire process," Rodriguez said. Canales said that during the year, TEES engineers and researchers from WTAMU's Alternative Energy Institute will provide hands-on instruction and lectures on wind energy as well as engineering project management and execution. "The lectures will tie into what we're doing already -- science, math, engineering and even geography, such as the places where it's best to use wind as an energy source. This project just fits in so well because it's what we've been doing. "And everyone gets to do it, not just seniors or the very top kids. This is very much project-based, hands-on, real-life learning." LISD's engineering magnet school director Gus Perez said, "That professional engineers working in the field are coming in to provide direct, in-class instruction to the students sets apart our magnet programs from most other programs that might just have professionals coming in to do talks or presentations during career days. The engineers' lectures will cover topics ranging from forces, magnetism, batteries and electric machines to wind energy and blade theory." And, said LISD engineering teacher Amanda Gonzalez, "This will give the magnet students working on this project a real-world experience that most students at the university don't even get." Schneider agreed. "This is a hands-on, in-your-face engineering project for these students," Schneider said. "We're using this project to teach students and to give them an idea of what it's really like to be an engineer because until you get out and start practicing engineering, you don't really know what you can do and how much of a difference you can make." The project is part of a two-year, $100,000 grant from the Texas State Energy Conservation Office. Other project partners include Texas A&M University's Center for Housing and Urban Development (CHUD) in the College of Architecture and the Webb County Department of Economic Development, which operates the County Colonia Community Centers and Self-Help Center. TEES is the engineering research agency of the State of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System.

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