LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Purdue University alumnus Juan Paulo Lacayo took a different approach to solving a common problem for students.
When presented the opportunity to compete in Electri International's Student Passport Initiative Competition, he made it personal by bringing in his diverse background.
The competition encourages construction management and electrical engineering students to take an active role in improving access to electricity in rural and developing communities in the United States or abroad. The winning team received a $20,000 grant to accomplish its vision.
"Me, being Nicaraguan, (I) automatically thought of all the help my country needs and how far $20,000 could go," said 22-year-old Lacayo, who graduated in December.
Although Purdue's National Electrical Contractors Association student chapter lost the competition in 2014 to Penn State University, Electri council members were so impressed by the proposal they decided to make individual contributions to support the project, according to Electri International.
With $20,000 in donations from electrical companies, Lacayo led a team of three other students, Gerson Astudillo, Nick Myers and Riley Seahorn, to Managua, Nicaragua, on Thanksgiving break.
The team of construction management students installed a solar photovoltaic system, which converts solar energy to electricity, at the Polyclinic of Lidia Saavedra de Ortega, a medical facility that serves retirees.
The clinic allows patients to pay only what they can afford for treatment and relies on donor support to execute its mission, according to the team's project proposal.
As the most impoverished country in Central America and second poorest in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua has widespread poverty and insufficient employment opportunities, according to the CIA World Factbook.
The clinic is powered by a fluctuating and unreliable electrical grid, which has damaged expensive and delicate medical equipment, according to the team's project proposal.
But the rooftop photovoltaic system, which consisted primarily of solar panels and an inverter, helps the clinic access a more reliable source of energy, said Brian Loss, assistant clinical professor of construction management and faculty adviser of the Purdue NECA student chapter.
The team installed a 5-kilowatt rooftop system that now powers computers and some medical equipment, Loss said.
"In Nicaragua, they have a lot of sunlight," Loss said. "We're excited to help them take a natural resource and turn it into something they need, which is power."
Loss plans to take another team of students to Managua in spring 2017 to expand the system.
Lacayo said the system will save the clinic about $250 a month in electrical costs.
"For the clinic, it was huge because they were having (major) electrical issues that kept them from providing proper care — or even care at all — to their patients," he said. "Although we did not fix the entire problem, we (helped) enough to say that we made an impact on their service."
The team learned time management, planning, teamwork and installation skills, according to Lacayo and Loss.
"It was important for the students so they understand what putting a project together involves ... how fortunate they are to have been born here," Loss said. "It was important to the people in Nicaragua who now have dependable power in a building that didn't have it before."
Loss was proud to be the team's coach, he said.
"The spirit of helping people was so manifest among (Lacayo) and the rest of the crew, it made me feel honored," he said.
Other than graduating from Purdue, Lacayo deemed the project his greatest accomplishment.
"Personally, it was also really important," he said. "I was leading the team, we worked hard for over a year and it was my country and hometown. I didn't want to let anyone down for everyone involved deserved the execution of this project."
Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com