Associate Professor Chair of the Department of Physics Co-Director CSUEB Social Impact Solar Program California State University East Bay
Dr. Helgren is the co-developer of the popular course Social Impact through Sustainable Solar Design, also referred to as “the Solar Suitcase class,” which includes active learning activities, community engagement, and mentoring. His background is in experimental Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Science, and his research has focused on renewable energy materials.
The course gives students the chance to learn about the physics behind solar power, the impact of solar power, its impact on the environment, and the practical use of solar power in the lives of those for whom it offers a low-cost, sustainable means of having light in impoverished circumstances. The focus of the class, is the hands-on building of the Solar Suitcase, a stand-alone, off-grid, solar-powered electrical system, that fits in a suitcase. Suitcases are donated to energy poor regions of the world, e.g. sub-Saharan Africa, orphanages, schools, libraries, health clinics and refugee camps where these suitcases provide may be the only source of light. The suitcases have also been used for post-disaster relief. Last year, they were sent to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
This course has a service-learning component, where students visit local middle and high school classrooms and assist teachers in working alongside their students in learning and building solar suitcases. For the past two years, the Solar Suitcase program has been expanded to five other CSU campuses (Monterey Bay, San Francisco, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Humboldt and Stanislaus) and recently added community college partner, Contra Costa. Partnering faculty have incorporated the solar suitcases into their classrooms and have their students partner with teachers from local schools in their communities to teach in those classrooms, building suitcases.
Bonni Stachowiak is the producer and host of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, which has been airing weekly since June of 2014. Bonni is the Dean of Teaching and Learning at Vanguard University of Southern California. She’s also a Professor of Business and Management and teaches a few times a year in an Educational Leadership doctoral program. She’s been teaching in-person, blended, and online courses throughout her entire career in higher education. Bonni and her husband, Dave, are parents to two curious kids, who regularly shape their perspectives on teaching and learning.
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