Fall 2020 Sponsors’ Activity Report

Robert H. Giles, Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Lowell Physics Department

The Current Activities

Travel to Haiti has been difficult since June 2019. There has been significant social unrest due to widespread demonstrations against the Haitian government in protest of the ongoing power outages. I had taken several teams during the Spring 2019 semester starting in January, then April and again in June conducting teaching and research initiatives at several organizations and schools.

During those trips we established connections with the Université Publique du Sud Aux Cayes (UPSAC) in Laborde, the RAW Haiti Youth Wellness Center in Port Au Prince and a Haitian American business leader seeking engineering support for establishing an electrical micro-grid for the town of Simone at the outskirts of Les Cayes. Throughout all three Spring 2019 visits, there was no electricity available on the city grid in Les Cayes at any time, hence the local unrest. Fortunately, I had set up a small solar energy system at HDSC’s center in Les Cayes capable of supporting our Wifi communications network as well as charging the Center’s computers and cell phones. As a result of our Spring 2019 visits, three Honors students at UMass Lowell have organized this summer to address the needs expressed by the leadership of UPSAC, RAW Haiti and Simone, Haiti creating opportunities for three distinct senior undergraduate Science and Engineering Capstone projects.

1) RAW, Haiti - Having purchased land at the edge of the poorest community in Port Au Prince, RAW Haiti’s Director, Dr. Corey Gifford, identified 3 engineering projects for which she required engineering support, as she built the new children’s wellness center. A potable water sand filtration system, a solar energy system and a solar thermal domestic hot water system. UML’s environmental engineering student, Joshua Walsh, spent the summer working with Drs. Corey Gifford, Onur Apul and myself to address the design of all three projects. Developing the systems in hopes that the COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted soon, we plan to install all three systems during the 2021 Spring break. (Dr. Chris Niezrecki, Chair of ME, donated 15 solar panels for the center and Dr. Gifford is currently making the shipping arrangements.) 

2) Simone, Haiti - Having been approached by a Haitian American business leader, Mr. James Eliscar on behalf of Simone, Haiti; UML’s undergraduate Business major, Brendon Aylaian, is developing a small solar energy micro-grid with smart-meters for pay-as-you-use electricity to be installed in the community of Simone. (Dr. Chris Niezrecki, Chair of ME, will be donating ≈ 50 solar panels for the community grid, and Mr. Eliscar has his own shipping company for transporting the panels to Haiti.

3) Université Publique du Sud Aux Cayes (UPSAC) in Laborde, Haiti - I have been visiting the UPSAC campus over the past two years given its proximity to HDSC’s Center in Les Cayes and formally established a Memorandum of Understanding between UML and UPSAC more than a year ago. I was planning to give a series of guest lectures at UPSAC on project-based/lab based teaching to their Science of Education Undergraduates last October, but had to cancel due to the significant social unrest, making in-country ground travel un-safe for foreigners. Upon receiving news of UNESCO’s potential donation of lab equipment and supplies for HDSC’s educational programs, I contacted UPSAC’s leadership and established a "Science and Energy” lecture series with a lab program. UML’s undergraduate physics major, Anne Souza, is working with me to develop and teach the lab program while I teach the “Science of Energy” lecture course. We conduct the lecture/lab course Thursday’s 2 to 5 PM and have already successfully completed several weeks of online curriculum with the aid of UPSAC’s Science Instructor, Pierre-Louis Maxo and Language Assistant, Steevenson Rosema.

While all these activities are on-going, sadly the decision to close HDSC’s facility in Les Cayes was made just over two months ago. Without access for UMass Lowell’s traveling science and engineering teams over the past year, it was decided to close the center and re-evaluate the situation after travel restrictions have been lifted. HDSC’s student interns were faced with diminishing scholarships funds so Ralph Douyon and Dayana Alabré transferred from UML’s continuing education program to colleges in Port Au Prince during the Fall of 2019. For now, research and teaching activities will continue with online support provided to our academic partners in Haiti. A visiting team from UML is being planned for Spring 2021 to Port Au Prince.

Making a Difference Together

Serving as a model international academic framework, UML researchers seek partnerships with philanthropic foundations for supporting the Haiti Development Study Center and are grateful for its growing base of sponsors. By providing scholarships and operational support for HDSC programs, these partnerships strengthen our commitment to impoverished international communities, using research, technology and education to make a lasting difference. The HDSC is an academic engine, small, but powerful enough to work in both directions; sharpening the research skills of UMass Lowell students and raising their awareness about factors that hinder progress in impoverished countries, while also helping Haitian students get the education they need to move their country forward.

Committed toward the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s mission to provide a transformational education that fosters student global awareness, the Haiti Development Studies Center recognizes Board of Advisors:

  • Noureddine Melikechi, Ph.D., Dean of the Kennedy College of Science
  • Maureen Kelly, Ph.D., Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Wilfred Ngwa, Ph.D., Director of Global Health at Harvard University

With a complete list of its advisors, participating faculty and sponsored activities available at: The Haiti Development Studies Center.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell is a public research university committed to excellence in teaching, research and community engagement. Our mission is to provide a transformational education that fosters student success, lifelong learning and global awareness. UMass Lowell offers affordable, experience-based undergraduate and graduate academic programs taught by internationally recognized faculty who conduct research to expand the horizons of knowledge.

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