ECU camp highlights renewable energy for middle schoolers

Amid all the wires, panels and connectors, Liliana Sherman had the best piece of equipment possible as she worked on a solar energy experiment inside a lab at East Carolina University — a pair of sunglasses.

“It was just an outfit choice, and then it was like, ‘oh, that’s a bright light,’ so I put my sunglasses on,” Sherman said.

She was among more than 20 Pitt County middle school students who participated in the Department of Technology Systems’ Renewable Energy and Green Manufacturing Academy.

Dr. M.M. Lekhon Alam, assistant professor in the Department of Technology Systems, helps 13-year-old Jude Woodmansee with a solar energy experiment during the Renewable Energy and Green Manufacturing Academy summer camp at ECU.

With support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the two-week summer day camp focused on renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind and hydrokinetics through hands-on learning modules, presentations and field trips.

For solar energy, the students used solar panels and a bright indoor lamp to power a small motor and then later graphed the energy output.

“I thought it was really cool,” said Sherman, who attends Farmville Middle School. “I liked how we saw the graphics of how the energy was going through all the wires.”

Dustin Mondejar, from C.M. Eppes Middle School, couldn’t seem to figure out why his energy reading was flat. He broke out laughing when he discovered the reason.

“I read the directions wrong,” he said.

A quick adjustment produced a graph line on a computer screen that was suddenly going up. Devin Leary, also from C.M. Eppes Middle School, worked on the same team and helped discover the problem.

“It’s fun,” he said of the camp. “It’s been hands-on, and I like that.”

The camp included tours of ECU’s steam plant and a solar farm, presentations and experiments with solar, wind and hydrokinetic energy, guest speakers and final student team presentations to parents and teachers. It also included several virtual sessions for the students.

“It’s science, and that’s a subject I love,” said camper London Wiggins of Hope Middle School.

Dr. Ranjeet Agarwala, associate professor in the Department of Technology Systems, organized the camp with support from Dr. M.M. Lekhon Alam, assistant professor, and Dr. Kanchan Das, professor, in the Department of Technology Systems.

“We all know the importance of saving energy,” Agarwala said. “If not, there is a price tag. Over time, it will be depleted. … We have to live within our means. This camp is just a small part to make sure future generations will have the air we breathe and the water we drink.”

Dr. Tijjani “TJ” Mohammed, chair of the Department of Technology Systems, greeted the campers on their first day.

“This camp is about green manufacturing and energy,” he said. “That touches every human being every day.”

As an example, ECU’s Center for Sustainable Energy and Environmental Engineering is devoted to research in sustainable energy and ecological systems, and partners with industry and organizations on sustainability issues and pollution prevention.

“It’s a focus we have here at ECU,” Dr. Tarek Abdel-Salam, director of the center, told the students. “It will be a lot of fun using the different types of renewable energy.”

Jennifer Stalls, district STEM coordinator for Pitt County Schools, said the camp allows hands-on opportunities that build upon what students learn in school.

“That’s what this camp is all about — to work with each other and learn new things,” she said.

In the end, Mondejar summed up the camp the only way middle schoolers do.

“I think it’s been pretty cool,” he said.