Illinois group leads hands-on science projects at summer camp at Blackfeet reservation

10/11/2016

August Schiess, CSL

CSL Professor Les Allen, his wife Joy, and several graduate students took part in the third annual summer camp at Blackfeet Community College, located on the Blackfeet reservation in Browning, Montana.

PhD student Zichao Ye helps students at the Blackfeet Community College Summer Institute.
PhD student Zichao Ye helps students at the Blackfeet Community College Summer Institute.
PhD student Zichao Ye helps students at the Blackfeet Community College Summer Institute.
The Blackfeet community is a fairly isolated area of the country in northern Montana, with a robust community college and one of the few Native American community colleges that offers a pre-engineering as well as full nursing program.

The week-long camp gave 30 high school and 30 middle school students a chance to experience campus, with workshops on organic gardening, math, the Blackfeet language, science, and more. Allen and his team introduced students to hands-on solar and wind energy projects that students could keep. 

“What makes this summer institute unique is the innovative hands-on approach. Students take ownership of their finished product—solar and wind projects, as well as their own voltmeter,” said Allen, an associate professor emeritus of materials science and engineering.

After learning about and testing a voltmeter and disassembling a solar garden light to understand how it works, the students assembled small wind turbines, solar lanterns, and USB iPhone chargers.

The hands-on experiences allows students to work with tools—some for the first time—and see how the individual pieces of a solar or wind system work together to produce energy.

“We really enjoy interacting with the students of the Blackfeet community during the wind and solar energy workshops,” said Allen. “The students are energetic and curious—they’re very interested in learning the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind the science.”

The team, led by CSL Professor Les Allen, introduced students to hands-on solar and wind energy projects.
The team, led by CSL Professor Les Allen, introduced students to hands-on solar and wind energy projects.
The team, led by CSL Professor Les Allen, introduced students to hands-on solar and wind energy projects.
Allen and his team have led science workshops at the camp for the past two years, and plan return to the camp next summer. Several Illinois students traveled to help with the camp: Zichao Ye, a PhD student, Boyi Xu, an undergraduate student, and Jonas Kurniawan and Sonika Rajput, both graduate students.

The camp is part of the broad impact portion of Allen’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Award under Solid State and Materials Chemistry (SSMC).