Santa Clara University


Seniors Build Sustainable Water Pump for Local Science School

Solar irrigation project for Walden West

Electrical engineering seniors Maurvi Badshah, Colleen Kilroy, and Brahmani Nandamuri got more than they bargained for when they signed up to build a sustainable, solar-powered water pump for garden irrigation at Walden West, a local outdoor science school for fifth and sixth graders. “Though we are all electrical engineering majors, this was really an interdisciplinary project that also used mechanical and civil engineering concepts,” said Maurvi.  The trio also worked with students from SCU’s education department to refine a lesson plan for the students. “That was a very resourceful collaboration and very helpful to us,” said Colleen.

After shadowing classes at Walden West to learn about their educational environment, the three set to work. “Walden West is all about conserving the environment,” said Brahmani, so every aspect of the system needed to be as sustainable as possible. The result is a design that uses six reclaimed thin-film solar panels purchased at a bargain price on Craigslist to power a pump that sends harvested storm-drain rainwater through high-density polyethylene pipes (that are manufactured in an earth-friendly process) to the vegetable gardens that are tended by the children.

“So much of this experience was new to us; wiring and installation are not things we covered in class,” Maurvi said. Brahmani added, “Though the process seemed very straightforward to us at first, divvying up the tasks, but we found that when you come back together to build a cohesive system, it’s a big challenge. We learned to deal with that situation.”

The engineering community-based project was launched and implemented with the support of a grant from S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation, awarded to Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Shoba Krishnan to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) engagement and interest among participating middle-school youth.

With the irrigation project completed and graduation from school on the horizon, the three are looking to the future. “I loved watching the system being built and applied,” said Maurvi, who plans to work in engineering for a few years before considering graduate school. Brahmani is focused on getting her MBA after she gathers some field experience. Colleen, who was encouraged by her high school math teacher to pursue engineering, says “I really sunk my teeth into the education component of this project. It was fun figuring out how to present engineering concepts to fifth and sixth graders. I’m considering pursuing a teaching credential.”

Wherever their education takes them, one thing is certain—their work at Walden West will help nurture a whole new crop of engineers.

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