Hartford students take STEM skills to new heights

By Dave Conrad

Students gather in the school's courtyard. The new solar-powered wind turbine is in the background.

It couldn't be done. Not by a group of teenagers from inner city Hartford. Not with the impossible project they took on, the steep learning curve they faced, and the intense expectations they placed on themselves. Not to mention the two-month, 11,000-mile trek the project took to the finish line, capped by a helicopter special delivery to a remote, treeless, extreme location in the Himalayan Mountains.

But they did it. Today, 13,000 feet up, a one-of-a-kind solar/wind turbine is whirring and providing electricity: for the first time: to the Sherlri Drukda Lower Secondary School in Saldang, Nepal.

Students there are now using laptop computers. In an electricity-heated classroom. For the first time.

Guess who designed, engineered, and built this turbine-that-could? Students at Hartford Public High School's Academy of Engineering and Green Technology (AoEGT), that's who.

This week, the students got the news that the eagle had landed in Nepal, that the turbine survived the long trip (a story in itself), and that it was installed by a group of volunteers from the United States, including Peter Werth, director of the Werth Family Foundation, who envisioned the project.

They really did it. And they could hardly believe it. There were tears of joy, gasps of astonishment, and a profound feeling of accomplishment. Photos, videos, and news are still trickling in from the intrepid group, led by Werth.

It was a tough go. "We had some challenges that were staggering," said Werth, "but the kids, villagers, and knowing Hartford was behind us kept us going."

Werth envisioned the project on a previous trip to the remote region. He then enlisted the help of the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program (CPEP), because, he says, "I had seen what CPEP did with young people on other projects and was confident that these students could take some existing technology and make it work in extreme conditions in Nepal."

Add CBIA's Education Foundation, which was instrumental in AoEGT's design and development. CBIA helped manage the Nepal project's many business partners, including United Technologies, the school's founding funder. Other partners in the project included a just-retired executive from Northeast Utilities, three college interns, an AoEGT science teacher, and the school's principal.

But it was the Hartford students who made it work, over several months of dreaming, designing, testing, packing: and waiting.

Attendees at CBIA's 198th Annual Meeting & Reception on Oct. 24 got to see a video and hear, in person, the testimony of one of the students on the team.

Most of all, they got to celebrate the miracles that can be accomplished in the most amazing places.

Dave Conrad is a senior writer at CBIA. Contact him at dave.conrad@cbia.com.