Keeping Kids Connected: Engineering Students Create Solar Charging Station for Homeless Youth

For people experiencing homelessness, cell phones aren’t a luxury, they’re a necessity. For students in the Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) University of Tulsa Chapter, helping their peers who are experiencing homelessness is something they feel passionate about.

On a typical night, there are more than 1,700 homeless youth in the city. This alarming figure is something that Youth Services of Tulsa is working to address. Keeping kids connected to vital support services is part of the solution, and EWB-USA is proud to be contributing.

When you think about the needs of those experiencing homelessness, cell phones may not be among the items that are top of mind. But cell phones are essential for job applications, waiting lists for housing, coordinating services and staying linked to family and friends, shared Brian K. Young, the community relations coordinator for Youth Services of Tulsa.

The problem is that there are very few public places where people experiencing homelessness can charge their phones.

For EWB-USA University of Tulsa seniors Haley Williams and Elisabeth Loe, helping their peers at Youth Services of Tulsa was an easy decision; it was a great fit for the technology they were working on with their EWB-USA student chapter and an identified need of their partner, Youth Services of Tulsa, who found themselves short of charging outlets.

Elisabeth was excited about creating and carrying out this sustainable project through EWB-USA’s Community Engineering Corps, a program that serves communities across the U.S. “With solar you can make a small-scale application that can really help solve a need for the community,” she said.  

The beauty of the team’s solution was opting for solar and placing the charging station outside, making it available to teens beyond normal business hours. The charging station was even designed to take inclement weather into account and includes an acrylic rain-resistant cover.

“I see people out there using it, absolutely. It’s just one more service we can provide, and it makes the kids’ lives a little more convenient. It is a need.  It might not seem like a huge need to a lot of people, but it is,” said Brian. “Anything we can do to keep these kids connected to their families and other support systems is beneficial, and, in today’s increasingly technological world, cell phones are a key component to keeping kids connected to services.”

The charging station will go a long way toward this objective as well as in promoting self-sufficiency and preventing future homeless periods.

“We had a fantastic experience with EWB and got to work with interesting, incredibly intelligent and creative individuals essentially serving their peers,” says Brian.

The team feels the same admiration for Youth Services of Tulsa. When they hit obstacles, such as kinks in the circuit design, it was the humanitarian aspects of the project that motivated them to continue.

“Every time I drive down Third Street, I look at the project and point out Youth Services. I’m really proud of the project,” said Elisabeth.

Building on their success, the team plans to pitch their innovation to the Red Cross. By using a more compact, portable and durable design, first responders will be able to have electricity in areas where the power grid is damaged by natural disasters.

The project team includes: Michael Feng, Elisabeth Loe, Nate Sanders, Shuyu Tian, and Haley Williams.

Interested in Making a Difference in Underserved Communities?

Community Engineering Corps’ “What’s in My Backyard?” campaign is a collaborative, grassroots effort to address America’s deteriorating infrastructure by connecting engineers and underserved communities and supporting their economic, social and environmental well-being.

We’re seeking engineering professionals and students to work on these community-identified engineering projects. Learn more about how you can get involved >>

About the Author
Engineers Without Borders USA builds a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.