It took Maggie Davenport exactly five hours in Haiti to realize that her carefully designed project – a modification to make kerosene stoves more fuel-efficient – wouldn’t be of much use.
Kerosene wasn’t widely available outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and main seaport. And now she understood why: The roads were terrible, a fact she discovered during the bumpy, five-hour trip from the Port-au-Prince airport to the university’s Haiti Development Studies Center in Les Cayes.
She would need to start over.
“Once I took that five-hour car ride, I realized transportation was a major problem,” she says. “Things never go as planned, but that’s OK, because you design around it and that’s part of the learning process.”
Davenport, an honors mechanical engineering major and a midfielder on the River Hawks’ Division I women’s soccer team, did the kerosene stove project for an interdisciplinary honors seminar, Science and Technology in an Impoverished World, which she took as a sophomore.
Physics Department Chairman Robert Giles, who teaches the class and directs the Haiti center, suggested that Davenport apply for an honors fellowship to visit Les Cayes over the summer. She did, along with two recent alumnae: honors biology graduate Rachel Paquette ’14, who designed the BioBubbler water filtration system for use in Haiti, and honors biology and chemistry major Zofia Peach ’17, who planned to build a prototype of the hydroponic farming system she’d designed for her honors capstone.
Davenport helped Peach build the hydroponic system and worked on another project, a bio-shredder that helps turn agricultural waste into fuel briquettes. She also learned more about Haitian culture by reading books, talking to people, going to church and visiting a trade school with expertise in local materials and manufacturing.
“One of the main things we learned in the class is you really have to understand the culture to design projects that will work, and you definitely have to get the support of the people there,” Davenport says.
In the middle of the trip, Davenport, Paquette and Peach had an idea: They would link a modified, small version of the BioBubbler to the hydroponic system to water the vegetables.
Back in the United States, Davenport persuaded her two best friends to work on the hydroponic system with her for their mechanical engineering capstone. With Giles as their advisor, they got a head start their junior year, going through several design iterations and building prototypes so they could try growing vegetables over the summer.
For her honors capstone, Davenport will also create a hands-on, hydroponics science curriculum for schoolchildren in Les Cayes.
Davenport came to UMass Lowell from Orlando, Fla., for a chance to make a difference on the women’s soccer team during the transition to Division I while studying engineering and taking interdisciplinary courses through the Honors College.
It didn’t hurt that her late grandfather, Paul Cassidy ’57, and her mother, Lisa Cassidy Davenport ’83, had earned degrees here. But that wasn’t the main reason for her choice.
“The university has a great reputation for its engineering program and its connections to ensure post-undergrad employment,” she says.