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Georgia Southern brings renewable energy research to schools in high-need rural Georgia

Georgia Southern engineering professors have received more than $524,000 from the National Science Foundation. The grant will enable them to bring cutting-edge renewable energy research into the high school and tech school classrooms of high-need rural areas in Georgia.

Valentin Soloiu, Ph.D.

Valentin Soloiu, Ph.D.

Valentin Soloiu, Ph.D., Allen E. Paulson Distinguished Chair of Renewable Energy and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Rocio Alba-Flores, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, received $524,706 to create a Research for Teachers in Engineering and Computer Science site, which will develop and train high school and tech school STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teachers in renewable energy research at the University.

This new three-year initiative, called Engaging Educators in Renewable EnerGY (ENERGY), will expand teacher and student knowledge in STEM fields, and help teachers create hands-on curriculum for their students.

“It’s not just bringing teachers and teaching them what we know,” said Alba-Flores. “It’s not just knowledge. It’s getting more into the research we’re doing now. What we’re going to teach them and show them is state-of-the-art research that we are doing.”

Rocio Alba-Flores, Ph.D.

Rocio Alba-Flores, Ph.D.

Ten teachers from surrounding counties will visit Georgia Southern and work with professors, industry advisors, graduate and undergraduate students in one of five different areas of renewable energy research. The next semester, University researchers will visit the high schools and tech schools to help the area teachers develop hands-on curriculum for their classrooms. After the year-long partnership is complete, each teacher will have renewable energy lesson plans in place to continue teaching and developing through his or her career.

“We will select teachers who are really motivated to learn and transmit to the high school students — not just one year, but they will continue doing that,” said Soloiu. “They will continue learning about energy in the topic they will select.”

While the program effects community educational outreach, Soloiu says the grant award was based heavily on the high-quality renewable energy research included in the program.

This research includes biologically inspired fin research, which will be used to extract waste thermal energy from exhaust gases; developing vertical axis wind turbines; biologically inspired flow networks, which will be used to transport thermal energy obtained from the sun to homes for domestic water heating applications; pico-grid (smart house) research, which seeks to minimize the wasted power in smart homes and explore renewable power generation and storage through electric vehicles; and solar-tracking systems research, which will help participants engage in deductive reasoning processes.

The grant development process has been a three-year intensive endeavor, but Soloiu says it is a great recognition of all the hard work and value he and his team have brought to the project.

“We are proud to be Georgia Southern professors,” he said. “We love this place. We want to bring value. We work incessantly to bring value — to bring value to the university, to bring value to the students, to bring value to the community.”

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