On a sunny April afternoon, Fort Hays State University celebrated its recently completed charging station with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Community members, alongside university administration, faculty, alumni, and students, learned how the collaborative project came to fruition and admired the finished product, which served as a backdrop for the event outside the university’s Center for Applied Technology.
In 2017, Eric Deneault, associate professor of Applied Technology, began brainstorming with former Informatics assistant professor, Dmitry Gimon, to create a hands-on project to encourage students to participate in undergraduate research. The pair hoped to demonstrate the first-class technology that prospective students could learn at Fort Hays State while providing a service to current students.
Fort Hays State’s unique charging station is powered primarily by solar panels mounted to the roof with batteries charging to full capacity within an 8-hour timeframe. The goal is to carry that energy through the night. Dusk-to-dawn lights come on in the evening to illuminate the entire area after dark.
The charging station receives secondary energy from users initiating a swinging motion. After five years in the making, FHSU’s one-of-a-kind charging station boasts a dual-side porch swing made of steel. The swing accommodates up to four people who can sit back-to-back. As individuals swing, they create energy. Those taking a break outside the Center for Applied Technology can enjoy the weather and swinging bench while charging personal devices.
Through years of planning and implementation, 50 plus students from applied technology, the Academy of Math and Science, informatics, and the College of Education have gained experience creating the charging station’s cutting-edge design. For instance, informatics students developed schematics for the project, and applied technology students completed the design and construction work.
Students have poured their hearts and souls into extensive research, proposal writing, finetuning the design, and building the station from the ground up. Students presented internationally with classmates, worked with a structural engineer to stress test the charging station, and created a one-off design stamped and approved by a licensed engineer.
During the ribbon-cutting event Thursday afternoon, three FHSU alumni involved with the project remarked how valuable the hands-on experience has been in building their professional careers. They learned about sustainable energy and how to work effectively and collaboratively as a team.
“Fort Hays State’s campus is full of history,” said 2019 alumnus Joe Walters. “Every time I come back to visit, there is something new among these limestone buildings. Finally, we have made our own unique contribution to campus”.
“The opportunity to work hands-on with solar technology and to study the ins and outs of renewable energy was simply amazing, Walters added. “To say that I learned a lot in our undergraduate research class would be an absolute understatement. This project led to the most valuable experiences of my college years – how to communicate with industry professionals, how to build lasting relationships with peers regardless of our differences, and the responsibility that comes with being part of a team that relies on each and every member.”
Walters worked on the charging station with fellow 2019 graduate Blake Dreher.
“Getting to research what solar panels and battery bank would best fit our needs gave me a great understanding of how solar panel systems work,” Dreher said. “I vividly remember the day the batteries arrived and being amazed at how heavy each one was. Joe Walters and I were like kids in a candy store when we were able to set the solar panels up.
“We checked in every chance we could get to see how much energy had been collected throughout the day. I am grateful for the opportunity to work on such an exciting project and to be part of a community that values sustainability and innovation.”
Aside from the commitment from faculty and students involved with the project, generous Fort Hays State University donors contributed financially to the charging station. Most notably, Peter Werth, a 1959 graduate of FHSU, donated substantially to fund the project and was thrilled to see it come to fruition. Werth, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, is a longtime supporter of applied technology and is the namesake of Fort Hays State’s Werth College of Science, Technology and Mathematics.
This innovative charging station is a prime example of the impactful undergraduate research that takes place across campus. Since 2005, Fort Hays State has recognized and honored scholarly, research, and creative activities during the John Heinrichs Scholarly and Creative Activities Day (SACAD). This year, SACAD will take place April 17-21. Community members and research enthusiasts are encouraged to attend and will have the opportunity to view student, faculty, and staff research from an array of academic perspectives.