• MENU

Faculty Strive to Bring Lighting, Educational Opportunities to Kenya

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

By Dale Long

Through the new Faculty Without Borders program, Rose-Hulman students, faculty, and alumni are expanding global experiences in Kenya with hopes of shedding light on educational and research opportunities.

Making Friends: Professors Ashley Bernal and Michael Kukral reached out to people of all ages during the trip to Kenya.

Four professors spent two weeks in the African country this summer to seek global design projects, create faculty collaborations, and open dialogue for ideas to develop alternate light sources as part of an Edu-Light Africa project.

"Lighting is a critical issue in developing countries," says Charles Joenathan, Ph.D., head of the Department of Physics and Optical Engineering. "We would like to see if there are ways our students can develop alternative, inexpensive light sources to help people [in Kenya and] throughout the world."

He concludes: "As engineers and scientists, if we don't lead, who will?"

Rose-Hulman is among a select number of U.S. colleges and universities participating in the National Science Foundation's Smart Lighting Project with hopes that the Edu-Light Africa initiative would be part of Rose-Hulman's contribution.

Joining Joenathan on this summer's exploratory trip were mechanical engineering professors Ashley Bernal, Ph.D.,, and Richard Onyancha, Ph.D., and geography professor Michael Kukral, Ph.D. They visited Moi University in Eldoret and Egerton University in Nakru to seek collaborative global design project experiences for mechanical engineering students. There was also dialogue with teachers and administrators at high schools in several communities to determine their current needs and inspire future engineers.

"The possibilities are endless and could mutually benefit people from both countries [the U.S. and Kenya]," says Onyancha, a Kenyan native. "Any relationship with these Kenyan institutions could provide our students experiences that will allow them to gain a global perspective that will be so valuable in the future."

Kukral, a former Fulbright Scholar, teaches courses in African culture. He is looking forward to returning to Kenya with several Rose-Hulman students.

Welcome Home: Professor Richard Onyancha, a Kenyan native, asks questions to students from his homeland and gets overwhelming response.

"I have taken students on study-abroad programs in Japan and Europe, and we have learned much. However, putting our students and faculty in Africa will be a life-changing experience. It was for me," he says.

Bernal is particularly interested in incorporating ideas into freshman-year mechanical engineering design projects and has joined colleagues in proposing a summer course to educate students about the Grand Challenges for Engineering as determined by a committee of the National Academy of Engineering. Challenges covering areas of energy production, providing clean water, and engineering better medicines are particular areas that need attention throughout the African continent.

New ideas under consideration in the Edu-Light Africa project may include the use of phosphorus-based paints (an inexpensive way to improve indoor light), and wind/solar-energy lighting systems to help bring light to Kenyan homes, where youths now study with little or no internal lighting. Rose-Hulman professors will encourage students to build solar/fluorescence receptors for lighting schools and surrounding areas in devices utilizing the fast growing and energy efficient technology of light emitting diodes (LEDS).

"Our students have the skills to meet these enormous needs," says Bernal. "We have to find a way to reach across the world to help those in great need."

Onyancha adds, "We're keeping our eyes open to new projects and ideas, especially in areas of sustainability."

An educational goal for the project is supporting the Kenya government's efforts to expand educational benefits throughout the country. Special emphasis will be made toward reaching out to help students in elementary and middle schools. Also, the Faculty Without Borders program hopes to develop faculty/student collaborations to enhance joint projects between Rose-Hulman and Kenyan universities.

Areas Of Need: Rose-Hulman faculty members focused on identifying student projects that would help Kenyans in the future.

"If you provide education and the infrastructure to enable learning, people will become self-reliant in their education," says Joenathan. "Education is the key to uplifting people out of poverty and developing collective awareness to eradicate poverty through self-learning and self-sufficiency. We could make a big difference to this region."

This summer's trip also had humanitarian aspects. The group presented clothing and gifts from Rose-Hulman faculty and staff members to Kenyan high-school students. The trip was supported by the Office of Academic Affairs, Office of Global Studies, and Department of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Physics and Optical Engineering, and Department of Humanities and Social Sciences.