Engineering Brightness By: Tracey Winey

This month, the JRNEY blog focuses on the importance of partnerships, and the first story is a great one. I had the opportunity to talk to Tracey Winey a few weeks ago, and I was so impressed with her commitment to equity for everyone involved in Engineering Brightness. She believes strongly that everyone deserves a voice at the table and that problems are solved when we all work together. So here's the story of how Engineering Brightness began and the impact its participants are having all over the world.

Geography, age, color, socioeconomic status, technological access, and student ability are all non-factors when students decide they are crucial to impacting a global problem.  Every student excels when they truly believe their unique intellect and compassion are required to create a solution.  

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Engineering Brightness is a global movement to impact light poverty. Ian Fogarty, John Howe, and I formed it with three cornerstone beliefs: 1) students are capable of impacting the future today 2) schools, community, and industry all benefit when they collaborate and  3) schools can provide authentic opportunities for relevant and impactful learning. 

Students, community, and industry have tackled the problem of light poverty through Engineering Brightness since 2013.  Students in: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Liberia, Uganda, South Africa, Nepal, Puerto Rico, Canada, and the United States participate.  They learn academic subjects such as circuitry, Ohm's Law, geography, weather patterns, and government while learning essential skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, agility, global citizenship, ideation, and creativity.   In addition to the students, teachers, business members, and community people share their passions and expertise to help create a light source for some of the 1.3 billion people worldwide who do not have access to safe and reliable electricity.

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Participants of Engineering Brightness are constantly striving to improve.  The first design change was given by a girl in Uganda who suggested incorporating a handle on the lantern.  Having a handle was imperative to hang the lantern in the outhouse at her orphanage.  The first circuit board change was recommended from a young man in Honduras who wanted lights on both sides of the board to benefit his entire family, not just him.  Making the light waterproof/resistant was a joint brainstorm from a student in the United States and a student in Guatemala during a Skype. Both students agree this is a good idea and are eager to hear from their research partners in Liberia who have recently received the lanterns.  They will gather data and then report if humidity will affect the lantern.  If the electronics inside the lantern fail due to moisture, the idea of waterproofing will move from just an idea to a prototype.

When individual households are equipped with a sustainable, 3D printed lantern, lives are changed.  Light provides an opportunity to study after dark and creates an avenue to fulfill dreams of students who want to be teachers, nurses, and pilots.  Light provides safety for those who have to chase off coyotes after dark to protect their family's chickens.  Light provides a community for those who normally go to bed after dark.  We are eager to find out what else reliable light after dark bring as more lanterns are distributed, and research is gathered, and stories are shared.
 

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Lives are changed for not only for the people who inhabit the household, but for all the people who collaboratively designed, engineered, manufactured, distributed and gathered feedback for the lanterns.  Participants who have light daily are learning they are confident and competent in many STEM areas.  They are learning empathy for those who don't have light.  They are learning to be philanthropists and maybe most important that each person has value and insight.

Engineering Brightness started as a movement to empower students.  200 lanterns have been distributed and researched, and with each lantern, more unintentional and unscripted learning has happened for students, teachers, community people, and business members.  Each lantern comes with a story and tells a story while shining light on how powerful intellect and compassion really are.

By Tracey Winey

 
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Tracey Winey is one of the original three co-founders of Engineering Brightness. She has lead the way in establishing global connections and lantern distribution and research for the program. She is also the Media Specialist at Preston Middle School, an instructor at Colorado State University, the Delta Force coordinator for the STEM Institutes and an original co-founder of the STEM Educator Symposium. Connect with her on Twitter @winey02.