When Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, leaving behind devastating damage, people around the country and world offered help through donations and supplies.

At Hartford Public High School's Academy of Engineering and Green Technology, the call was clear.

Carmen Yulín Cruz at the Academy of Engineering & Green Technology
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz speaks with Academy of Engineering and Green Technology students.

With the help of their teacher David Magnus, the students designed and built solar electric-generating systems to distribute to some of the most remote parts of Puerto Rico that remain without power eight months after the storm.

For these students, it was personal. A few still have relatives on the island, and many have a connection to the country.

"I am Puerto Rican myself, so I wanted to help my people," said Jorge Zayas, a senior who worked on the project.

"I'm making a difference helping my grandparents and other family and friends."

By the end of the school year, they will have 10 systems ready to ship. But they never expected that they would be able to see their systems in action.

Surprise Announcement

A recent visit from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz changed that. The students were completely shocked when Cruz made a surprise announcement.

"We'd like to invite you to Puerto Rico, bring some teachers, and see how your work will help others," Cruz told the students.

In Hartford for the 2018 Latinas and Power Symposium, Cruz wanted to meet students from the National Academy Foundation-sponsored academy, thank them, and see their hard work firsthand.

I wanted to help my people. I'm making a difference helping my grandparents and other family and friends.
— Academy senior Jorge Zayas
"They may think they are providing power, but they are giving life," she said.

She noted that the power systems will help run emergency medical devices and keep medicine, like insulin, refrigerated.

The students will work with students from Escuela Especializada en Matemáticas, Ciencia y Tecnología in San Juan, creating a technology bridge and even visiting each other's schools to finish the work on the solar systems.

Proud Tradition

"Our students have demonstrated once again that they have the tenacity, passion and perseverance to make the world better," said Andréa Comer, vice president of workforce strategies with CBIA's Education & Workforce Partnership, which helped found the academy.

"This is what our future workforce looks like."

The Puerto Rico project continues a proud tradition of community service for academy students, who built a series of renewable power systems for remote Himalayan villages in previous years.

"You are critical thinkers and problem solvers," Hartford Public Schools superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez told the students.

"What you are doing today impacts so many lives beyond this neighborhood school."

Each system has two solar panels that provide 200 watts of electricity, a charge controller, a 500-watt inverter with four 2.5-amp USB charging ports, and a 12-volt gel battery.

Business Support

The students designed and built the wooden crates in which the systems will be shipped and added wheels to the crates to make the systems portable.

The crates also contain essential items such as rechargeable batteries and chargers for flashlights, lanterns, and radios, as well as blankets, first aid kits, and portable water filters.

This project is made possible with the generous support of others.

They may think they are providing power, but they are giving life.
— San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz
Steffian Bradley's Eddie Widofsky is the project manager and volunteers his time to meet with students and work on the project.

Gil Martinez of Hartford Public Access Television is helping with the coordination and transportation of the systems once in Puerto Rico.

Pratt & Whitney is a major project funder, as well as United Technologies Corp., the academy's corporate sponsor.