Guest blog by: Mayen Akpan
RECA Penn State 2013
Where you went:
Roatán, Honduras, Central America
Why you decided to go:
When I found out about this course, via flyer advertisement, a light lit-up within me! This course is the very essence of why I chose my major! I thought that I should be smart, and utilize spring break to enhance myself as an engineering student, and enhance my resume, in terms of experience and gaining valuable skills. I would hope that this experience could allow me a glimpse into the solar industry and conducting solar energy service projects. I was so excited for this opportunity because I have been so conditioned to think that engineering is just math and using this formula for this and using this formula for that and balancing equations and measuring inertia, etc etc. This service project, I truly believe would steer my heart back to the reason why I chose to become an engineer, as well as do what I love to do: learn and help others, especially in lesser-developed places.
Share some general information about the experience or what you did while you were there:
Honestly, one aspect of this trip that I was a bit worried about was the language barrier, and how it may make or break the communication during this trip. Thankfully, our RECA team was blessed with 2 Spanish speakers, who helped us all overcome any language barriers, big or small, which we encountered. I also got to use the little amount of Spanish I have learned from living in Texas, and learned some Spanish too!
Our mission and purpose for going on this trip was install a solar PV (photovoltaic) system on the roof a
community daycare, so that system would provide energy for the establishment, reduce energy costs for them, as well as promote cleaner, more efficient and environmentally-friendly alternative energy in the Honduras. We had three sponsors which made this project possible: RECA Penn State, Vegas Electric (donated the solar array, provided electric work and labor), and Peace Work (teams university student groups with global service projects). There were many engineering constraints we had to work through, such as the uneven surface for the array, the framing of the array, the size of the array seeming larger than the work space, work space, the language barrier, etc. Our team was given a real engineering problem with real constraints, which made for an exciting challenge. This was like no homework problem I've ever done, but the practice that I've gained being an engineering student at Penn State has equipped for any challenge - yes, even a project that I've never done before, in an entirely different country!
Working in a group...usually not what I look forward to when I have to work in a group for my previous classes. However, all the RECA 2013 students went through a screening process, and were specially selected from a pool of applicants. So, working in a group with students who exemplify what leadership, teamwork, honesty, inclusiveness and kindness was both an honour and a pleasure! We worked through this challenging project together, and that is what made the completion of this project satisfyingly memorable. This project showed me a wonderful preview of what I hope to be doing as a soon-to-be Penn State engineering graduate, and global citizen! This experience was everything I hoped for and more! It went way past my expectations! And I learned that I have a lot to learn about solar energy, but I happy to climb that mountain.
Although overcoming our challenges and constraints was satisfying, and getting past those mountains would make any engineer smile like child on Christmas morning, my favourite parts of the trip was interacting with the Hondurans. Or should we call them, Roatanians? It's fascinating to me living and learning in a new environment. Everyday, I admired the setting, their countless palm trees, the way the noon-sun gently baked my cheeks, and how it shone without shyness - how colourful parrots 'sissonned' from branch to branch like it was a dance, and although there was a language barrier amongst us and the children at the daycare, fun for child under the age of 5 is universal (jumping around, being picked up to act like a plane in the sky, cooking in their play-kitchen, etc).
This experience really did provide me insight on so many aspects of solar energy and life, in general. I am really
*My advice to students looking to beef up their resume: Take an alternative S.B.S.P.E. (Spring Break Service-Project Experience)! This will be both memorable, valuable, and could possibly earn college credit! This RECA project was through the Penn State course: AE 498E (Design-Build Solar PV: Honduras). And if one just simply wishes to enhance his or her resume, an S.B.S.P.E. can provide resume embellishment without conflicting with any summer plans or employment!
***Our RECA 2013 blog: http://sites.psu.edu/therenewcrew/