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Two Vassar faculty members win grant to bring technology to high schools in Nicaragua

Two Vassar College faculty members recently received an EPICS grant from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to forward their work in Nicaragua, balancing research on pathways to education and support of sustainable development projects.

The IEEE’s EPICS grants (Engineering Projects in Community Service) are designed to support collaborations between college and high school students working on engineering-related projects for local humanitarian organizations.  

Judith Nichols, a former professor and current visiting scholar at Vassar, and Tracey Holland, interim director of international programs and visiting assistant professor of education, both have had long histories of working in Latin America. Last year they started a nonprofit organization, Artists for Soup, to explore solutions to issues including food security, educational enrichment, and environment protection in La Paz Centro, Nicaragua. The Artists for Soup project funded by IEEE is going to use technology in secondary schools as a way to help students inform themselves about the local challenges that result from climate change, drought, and limited resources. Vassar students and Nicaraguan students from the University of Managua’s engineering school will work together to help the high school students use the technology and explore ideas for service learning projects.

In October, while delivering IEEE funded technology, Nichols and other members of the Vassar community will meet in Nicaragua with partner organizations including Foundation for Women Nicaraguans Solar Project (FUPROSOMUNIC), Rayo De Sol, BioNica, and Cinica Verde.

The IEEE grant of $2,300 is an important starting point for the project. “A modest grant can go a long way,” Nichols points out. “”Raspberry pi computers are only $65 each,” she explains. “We purchased several of those and circuit boards. With donated keyboards and monitors, we’ll be able to create functioning computer labs in two public schools.” During the October trip, the group will also bring snap circuits/solar kits and monitors to be used by an emerging afterschool group of pre-engineering and STEM students.

“This grant is meant to build on connections between people of greater privilege and people in need,” says Nichols. “We’re looking forward to putting the IEEE/EPICS contribution into action this fall.”

To keep momentum going, Artists for Soup is holding an arts benefit at Vassar on November 15, 4:00-7:00pm, in The Aula of Ely Hall. There will be a silent art auction and salsa dancing. All proceeds will go to supplies, tools and salaries used in maintaining the Artists for Soup community center and developing bio-intensive gardens and solar ovens in homes and in public schools in Nicaragua.

About IEEE
IEEE is the world's largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. IEEE and its members inspire a global community through IEEE's highly cited publications, conferences, technology standards, and professional and educational activities.

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Posted by Office of Communications Thursday, September 17, 2015