All posts by nsmackey

Home Bound

By the final week, we had become accustomed to what we referred to as “India time”. We had promised Gajapathi, our main contact at the Kunnankulathur Government High School, that we would be to the school by 9:00am on Tuesday morning for the school prayer. We had arranged a vehicle to pick us up for 8:45am, but it didn’t arrive until 9:00am. Worrying we might have missed the prayer, or at a minimum be fashionably late, we pulled up to the school noting the ceremony hadn’t begun yet. We had gotten the chance to watch the school prayer during week three while working on our projects but none of us knew what to expect from being a part of it. Students led us into a classroom as they went through their usual routine. Towards the end, we were called to the front of the stage. Gajapathi took the time to introduce us to all of the students and presented us each with a handmade flower necklace and gift. Seeing how much of an impact our presence at the school left on the students is hard to put into words. More importantly, what we were able to each takeaway from working with the students is truly priceless and indescribable.

From left to right: Aishwarya, Gajapathi, Marcello, Julian, Brianna, Sarah, Nichole, Vishal at the Government High School.
From left to right: Aishwarya, Gajapathi, Marcello, Julian, Brianna, Sarah, Nichole, Vishal at the Government High School.

 

On Wednesday, we had the pleasure of being guests at Gajapathi’s home. We were welcomed with bowls of homemade mango ice cream that were to die for. Gajapathi has spent the last two years planning and building his home. In India, celebrating the building of a new home is very important. We were able to look through the album that was created based of the housewarming celebration that was held. All of his wife’s family, his family and co-workers from Kunnankulathur Government High School were part of the event. A tradition in India is to have a cow draped with a saree walk through the home which we found to be super cool. Gajapathti gave us a tour of his new home which is beautiful. There is a guest house on the second level and a rooftop that has a breathtaking view of the hills, a constant breeze and is perfect for star gazing. Every detail from the doors, cabinet handles and light fixtures was planned and hand picked by Gajapathi. Following the tour, Gajapathi served us a homemade Indian dinner. We were able to eat on banana leaves which is one of my favorite parts of India. All the food was delicious from the idly and dosa to the prawn rice. Before departing his home, Gajapathi left us by saying we always have a home in India.

The India team from left to right: Julian, Nichole, Brianna, Sarah, Marcello at Gajapathi's home.
The India team from left to right: Julian, Nichole, Brianna, Sarah, Marcello at Gajapathi’s home.

Then came Thursday, our final day in India. It hadn’t sunk in that we were going through the “lasts” of our daily life. Going to the school and seeing the students for the final time brought tears to my eyes. From all the selfies, autographs and kisses on cheeks, pulling into the school and seeing their smiling faces and waving hands is a memory none of us will forget. We had brought stickers to hand out to the students before leaving- and I use the phrase “hand out” loosely. Once one student had a sticker, all the students wanted a sticker and before we knew it, the bag of stickers were out of our hands and enveloped in a crowd of cheering elementary aged students.

On top of saying goodbye to the students at Kunnankulathur, we were left with saying goodbye to the friends we had made at KVCET. My great grandma and her friends used to say “too-da-loo” to each other, which translates to “see you later”. I had told this to Lago, one of our friends, so that we didn’t have to say goodbye. After piling the luggage and ourselves into the vehicle, we waved our final waves and headed to the airport. All of us knew this wasn’t the last time we would cross paths. We know the KVCET students will be coming to Michigan Tech in February of 2018 and we are eagerly awaiting their arrival and counting down the days until they land at CMX. More importantly, we all plan on returning to India to be reunited with the friends we made during our five weeks. Everyone was so open, willing to help us and kindhearted. They showed us what it means to make life long friends.

The India team with R. Elango and his intern at Kunnankulathur prior to leaving.
The India team with R. Elango and his intern at Kunnankulathur prior to leaving.

The Final Countdown

On Thursday, we had the opportunity to put our impromptu speaking skills to the test. We had been informed of an informal question and answer session that we would be participating in earlier in the week. We were told to not worry about it and just show up for the event. What we envisioned was having a conversation with small group of students discussing what we like about India and talking about Michigan Tech. From our expectation, we were in for a little surprise.

The best part of the surprise was that the room the event was in was air conditioned. We have gotten so used to being without air conditioning that when we enter an air conditioned area, it makes everything better. The group of students that we were interacting with was also much larger than we anticipated; it almost seemed like we were acting as a panel for a class. When the professor for the class introduced us, he mentioned the students in the class were interested in hearing about the graduate programs at Michigan Tech. With all of us being undergraduate students and having not prepared anything for the session, we were far from experts on this topic.

We went around and each introduced ourselves. We talked about the projects we’re doing here in India. Sarah went through a slideshow Marcello had put together of pictures of life at Tech and in the Keweenaw. Then the floor was opened for questions. The students asked about clubs and sports at Michigan Tech, what our favorite things about India are, if there is a masters program in biomedical engineering and if we knew any Tamil. While the session didn’t go exactly as we anticipated, it was a lot of fun and the students did ask engaging questions.

We were also able to cover lots of ground with the solar and water filtration projects during week four. With the water filtration system, all the supplies needed to complete the project were purchased. The inflow and outflow storage tanks were cleaned, the pipes were cut and attached, and the sand and gravel barrels have been filled. When attaching the pipes, we ran into an issue with the connectors we decided to use. Initially we planned on having straight pipe connections and attaching them to the barrels using epoxy. The connectors we used created a slight slanted connection that we troubleshooted by using hose for the slanted pipe connections. For week five, we need to wash and dry the charcoal and replace a joint from the outflow storage tank to the overflow pipe. We also need to put up the chicken wire and tarps to monkey proof the water filter and it should be good to go!

For the solar project, the wiring was completed from the panels to the classroom. The low voltage direct current fans were put together and installed into the classroom. The LED lights were put together and installed into the classroom as well. The students are able to utilize the solar power for the lights and fans in the classroom at all times and power the computers for part of the time. We actually got to see the solar power system being used on Friday during a regular power outage.

None of us can believe we’re already into our final week. Time has flown in India and we’re not quite ready to leave. We have enjoyed every second thus far and are eagerly anticipating what week five will bring.


Third Times’ A Charm

On Monday afternoon while waiting for the car to bring us back to KVCET for lunch from the school, we had the chance to meet the students! Third times’ a charm as they say and three weeks of us coming to the school on a regular basis must have been enough time for the students to get comfortable enough to show us their school. We were sitting on the steps outside the main office when a group of students approached us and began asking us questions: our names, where we are from, what our friends’ names are, etc. One student asked us to visit their classrooms. Once they grabbed on to our hands, everything happened very quickly.

Initially we tried the “buddy system” when going into the classrooms but the students had full control. We all ended up in different classrooms but the excitement when one of us entered a room was the same. All the students were waving, smiling and wanting to shake our hands. They all shouted questions at the same time which made it hard to converse but didn’t take away from the fun. Some students asked us to dance, others wanted to see American money and all of them wanted to be in a selfie. Being surrouned by their excitement and energy gave all of us a new perspective on why we’re doing the projects we’re doing. Getting to meet the students also made going to the school each day to work on the projects even more enjoyable.

During week three we were able to make lots of headway with the solar and water filtration projects. For the water filtration system, our initial plan was to clean the barrels and replace the biochar. After emptying the gravel barrel and attempting to clean it, we made the executive decision to replace the system. There was also lots of sun damage and cracks in the pipes and since we are putting a roof over the system, we felt its longevity would be lengthened by replacing the components. We spent the remaining week purchasing supplies,  measuring the barrels and cutting the holes for the pipes to complete a dry fit of the system.

For the solar project, the school is currently having two buildings added so the construction workers offered to cement the stand for the panels to the roof for us. We were also able to get the stand painted and prepped for the cementing to be completed. Miscellaneous shopping trips were completed as needs of parts and tools arose.

We also were able to discuss plans of the garden project with the headmaster. We designed a vertical garden to be put on the side of the building below the water filtration system so that the runoff can be used to water the garden. The headmaster was very pleased with the plans and is excited to see the final product in place. He showed the plans to one of the engineers working on the construction of the new buildings at the school who was also very excited about the fact that a garden could be put in at the school. The engineer volunteered to take the garden up as a personal project, using our plans, and has offered to carry out the construction of the garden.

With the progress we made during week three, we were able to come up with a timeline for our remaining time in India. We are confident with where our projects currently stand and we are excited to see what our final two weeks bring!


What We Do

We are part of the Pavlis Honors College which is not your typical honors college as there is no GPA requirement to join. Instead, students are free to choose between pathways: global leadership, Peace Corps prep, enhanced enterprise experience, research scholars, new venture or a custom pathway. We are part of the global leadership pathway and our five week adventure in India is allowing us to fulfill our immersion experience.

DSC01252

We will be staying and working with the Karpaga Vinayaga College of Engineering and Technology (KVCET) located just outside of Chennai (Madras) in the state of Tamil Nadu. Our five weeks there will be spent working on the following projects:

SOLAR: We as a team are going to attempt to fund solar projects in the local village. There are two main projects, the first is to put solar streetlamps allowing for the village streets to be self sustained and allow for individuals to be productive even at the later times of the day. The second is to power the school using solar panels. The solar panels will supply the school with a more reliable source of electricity than the current Indian electrical grid which often goes out at inopportune times. The solar array will supply the school with cooling fans, lights, and even take home batteries to supply the families of these school kids with electricity in their own home.

GARDEN: The school currently has a composter system in place but they don’t have a garden to use it with. With notes from the students who traveled to Kunnankulathur, we have a location and dimensions to plan the garden with. While in country, we will work the group who will be in charge of maintaining the garden while prepping the area, building the foundation and placing the fencing. We are also doing research on what plants would be suitable for their environment and communicating with a professor from the school to learn about what the community would like to have.

WATER FILTER: There is currently a three tiered filter system in place where the final tier goes through a biochar filter. The biochar is in need of replacement so during our time in India, we will focus on making the biochar with the individuals who maintain the water filter system. We are also exploring ways to make the current system lighter as it is currently located on one of the roofs of the school buildings. The weight of the system is beginning to show signs of wear and tear so we’re hoping to transform the system into a two-tier system or find a new location to implement the system.

WATER PIPES: The current state of the school’s water pipes is in disarray. The current pipe system in the school is falling, leaking and cumbersome. Our goal is to repair their system. Currently the system leaks, gives out poor water pressure, and has the potential to cave in one of the roofs.

EDUCATION: We will be planning lessons for the middle school students at Kunnankulathur. While in India, we will be performing two science lessons: one based off of the composter and garden system that will be finalized while we are there and the other being of one around water filtration. We are also planning an American culture lesson that includes lots of pictures.

We are all very excited for what these five weeks have in store for us. Until we arrive in country, we are working hard to make as much progress, plan and prepare for the success of our projects. In addition to working on the above mentioned, we will be conducting interviews with community members in hopes to gain an idea of future project ideas to bring back to Michigan Tech for future students to work on and implement. It’s a very exciting opportunity and now we’re just counting down the days to departure…


Meet the Team

julianJulian Gabriel

I’m Julian Gabriel a 3rd year Mechanical Engineer. I come from Canton Michigan and have spend my whole life doing en gineering work. Previously I was the President, Designer, and Driver of Lighting Robotics team 862 in which we created a fully functioning, competitive, 120 Ib robot for my 4 years of High School. I currently work at Robert Bosch as a mechanical engineer and have been trying my hand at a number of different sections and tasks within the Bosch organization. At MTU I am a honors student as well as the President of Smash Club MTU, and the Vice President at MTU’s IEEE branch. Though my skills fall in line with engineering, my passion is helping people with my work, as well as working in diverse teams of people. I am very much looking forward to getting to know the culture, the heritage, and the people of India!

marcelloMarcello Guadagno

My name is Marcello Guadagno (left). I’m a third year majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Aerospace Engineering and International Leadership. I’m from Chicago, IL, and have spent a number of years living in Italy previously. Currently, I am a Team Lead in the Aerospace Enterprise, and coach in the Engineering Learning Center. After graduation, I plan to either pursue a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering or directly enter the Aerospace engineering field, with the ultimate goal of developing air/spacecraft componentry or leading design as a systems engineer. While in India, I plan to develop renewable energy solutions, energy-efficient refrigeration devices, and repair the water supply system for the school at our travel destination. I look forward to working with my team in a new and unfamiliar environment.

 

nicholeNichole Mackey

My name is Nichole Mackey. I’m a third year majoring in software engineering from Skandia, MI. I’m also minoring in Economics. After I graduate, I hope to work on autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, and embedded systems. I’m also interested in the startup world. Here at Michigan Tech, I’m the vice president of Women in Computing Sciences, member of University Innovation Fellows and part of the Innovative Global Solutions Enterprise. While in India, I will be part of the team implementing a garden for the community to use their composter and aiding in water filter maintenance and pipe maintenance. I’m looking forward to the opportunity with working with the youth. I’m excited to travel with my team and experience a new culture!

aussieBrianna Neeb

My name is Brianna Neeb. I am a third year studying Scientific and Technical Communications with a minor in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. I am from a little town in Michigan between Grand Rapids and Lansing called Clarksville. After I graduate, I’m interested in working for nonprofits to help spread the word about them. I also love travel, so I am very interested in teaching English abroad. I would like to work in the countries that tend to make people nervous when I mention them (mostly ones in the middle east). Currently at Tech, I am not involved in a lot, as I work two jobs that require a lot of my time. I am newly involved with the Pavlis Ambassadors. While in India I’m going to be working on the pipe maintenance at the school we will be working with, along with implementing a garden to use the composter that was implemented by a previous travel team. I’m excited for the culture and curry.

meandmomSarah Wade

I’m Sarah Wade, I’m a 3rd year Electrical and Computer Engineering major. I am from Farmington, Maine which is about 2 hours north of the coast and 1 hour east of the New Hampshire border. I enjoy nordic skiing and am currently on the Nordic Ski team here at tech. I decided to go to India because I’ve always wanted to go back to Asia (I’m adopted from China) and this seemed like a good opportunity to go and learn about their culture while helping out as well. I’m also in the Aerospace Enterprise here at tech and am the Auris Payload Systems Engineer. When I graduate I’m not entirely sure what I want to do, but I think I want to work in the aerospace industry.