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On January 21, 2013, The Tech Museum of Innovation is partnering with We Care Solar to launch an innovative hands-on program that gives youth a chance to link science and technology with international philanthropy. The newly opened TechLab will host the first “We Share Solar Suitcase” assembly program, allowing students to build rugged and compact solar electric kits destined for schools and orphanages in the developing world that currently have no power.

40 teenage girl scouts from the San Jose area will spend the day in the TechLab wiring and configuring the portable solar power systems. Two of the systems will be donated to schools that have no electricity in Sierra Leone through a non-­profit group called Schools for Salone.  Other Solar Suitcases will be sent to the New Hope Orphanage in Uganda.

We Share Solar  is a project-­based initiative for middle schools, high schools, and colleges designed to improve students’ science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) skills, solar energy knowledge, and awareness of energy poverty in the developing world. Students will learn solar power engineering as they build a We Share Solar Suitcase from a kit. Completed We Share Solar Suitcases will be donated to partner non-­profit groups working with schools and orphanages in regions that lack access to reliable electricity.

“Like all of us, students are excited by the idea that their hard work makes a difference for students who have fewer resources than their American counterparts.” said Hal Aronson, Ph.D., project director of We Share Solar and co-­founder of We Care Solar. “We have found that students are very motivated by knowing that the solar energy systems they are building will power lights and computers for students whose schools and homes go dark once the sun goes down.”

Aronson added, “For schools and orphanages in the developing world, the We Share Solar Suitcase will provide the most valuable light of all – the first 100 watts.”

Aronson, who has been a solar power educator in California for more than 10 years, created the We Share Solar Suitcase Education Program in response to requests for solar power systems to be used in non-­medical situations, such as schools and orphanages. The We Share Solar Suitcase is an easy-­to-use, easy-­to‐transport, plug-­and-­play, complete solar electric system. Increased energy efficiency in lights makes it possible to illuminate a classroom with only 15 watts of electricity. The kit includes a battery, a 20-­watt solar panel, a charge controller, switches, and wiring. The We Share Solar Suitcase can be expanded to up to 200 watts of solar power.

Curriculum for We Share Solar has been created by Aronson and other educators and includes input from Alan Jensen, a social studies teacher at Central Coast High School in Monterey. In 2012 Jensen and his students built several solar suitcases, which have been deployed in South Sudan and Senegal.

“I want my students to see the real connection between what they did and how it impacted the lives of orphans in Third World countries,” Jensen told the California Educator magazine in its September 2012 issue. “I want them to know they make a difference.”

Monterey student Ricardo Perez told the California Educator: “The best thing was being able to help a community of people who are less fortunate than us. A lot of people think you wouldn’t do something like that in a continuation school, but yes, we did, because we like helping people. I told my teacher it would be my pleasure to make more suitcases.”

Aronson, Jensen, and Dr. Stachel will be at the TechLab for on Jan. 21 for the workshop, which begins at 10 a.m. at the Tech Museum.