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High school students from around the Valley create ‘Solar Suitcases’ to send across the world

Each case can power up to five lightbulbs and has a USB drive to charge electrical devices.
Each case can power up to five lightbulbs and has a USB drive to charge electrical devices.(WHSV)
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 5:10 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - For the last two weeks, groups of 10th and 11th graders from around the Valley have been learning and working in the engineering lab on the James Madison University campus to provide power to a school for refugees in Kenya.

The groups in the Valley Scholars program have been working on what they call ‘Solar Suitcases’ as their summer project to help others around the world.

“The idea is that JMU and the local school divisions invest in these students by preparing them for college attendance,” Shaun Mooney with Valley Scholars said. “But we also want the students to learn and incorporate the idea that they are going to invest into someone else.”

Mooney says through the program, students learn that solar and electric power which we may take for granted in the Valley, is needed by people in the world who use that light to study and be able to complete their work.

This specific project will send two of the suitcases to a school in Kenya to make sure a classroom can always stay lit.

“It has two lightbulbs on each switch box, so a total of four light bulbs plus the case itself has a DC receptacle for one last light bulb and it also has a spot for a USB charger,” Remy Pangle with the Center for Sustainable Energy at JMU said.

Pangle says the suitcases come in kits provided by We Share Solar and were paid for by grant funding from the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative and MERCK.

Students in the program not only had the opportunity to learn about electrical engineering but also took on other roles with the project like quality control, community relations, writing articles about the project and even designing artwork for the school that opens the suitcase in Africa.

“It’s a great feeling when you think of being able to help people in other countries who need light like that to be able to help study,” Jacob Kyle, a 10th grader at Buffalo Gap High School, said. “It gets dark for them too, we have lights to study in the evening and nighttime. They don’t have that, so its great to help with their learning.”

Virginia McDonald from Mountain View High School is a part of the communication relations team and says writing letters to kids in Kenya feels like they’re placing their own footsteps in the world.

“It gives us a taste of the outer world, so we’re not as sheltered and it feels nice to help out, it feels like we’re actually making a change,” McDonald said.

On Friday at 12:30 p.m. the group of 11th graders will share a presentation about the project in on campus in EnGeo 1009.

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