Senior design project brings clean power to Haitian ministry

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. – Matthew 25:40

While many Trine University engineering students complete senior design projects to help businesses, organizations or communities, a group from Christian Campus House (CCH) at Trine was looking for something more.

“We really felt like God was calling us to something that would have a global impact and benefit people directly,” said Cameron Crenshaw, a senior from Shelbyville, Indiana.

The senior design team of Crenshaw, Emily Dunn from Doylestown, Ohio, and Chris Laudenschlager of Walton, Indiana — all mechanical engineering majors — traveled with a group of six other Trine students and alumni to Peredo, Haiti. Over most of Trine’s spring break, they developed a manual to purchase, construct and install solar panels on an expansion to a hospital operated by Haitian Christian Outreach (HCO).

The idea came from Laudenschlager’s participation in a 2015 CCH mission trip to Haiti. Currently, HCO uses a diesel generator to power to its campus — including the hospital, a school and church — which is costly to operate and harmful to the environment.

“Cameron Mayhill, the director of HCO, mentioned that they were wanting to install solar panels, but needed the system to be designed,” Laudenschlager said. “I thought it would be a good candidate for a senior design project, and asked Emily and Cameron if they would like to participate. They said yes, so I took it to Dr. (Jamie) Canino in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department and got it approved.”

“I had the desire to do something more with the engineering skills I had developed over the past three years at Trine. God more than answered my prayer!” said Dunn. “When Chris asked me if I would join a senior design project to provide solar power to a town in Haiti, I instantly knew this was far bigger than anything I could have imagined.”

The team built and tested a prototype system on Trine’s campus, developing the mounts and controls system and determining the best method of mounting the panels to the hospital’s roof. The entire group arrived in Port-au-Prince on March 11, then took a more than four-hour journey by van to Peredo, which is near the island’s southern coast.

“ ‘Haiti’ means ‘mountain,’ and we came to appreciate that after driving over several to reach our destination,” Crenshaw said.

The next morning, a Sunday, the group was able to worship at the church on the HCO campus.

“Throughout the course of this project, our desire has been to use our talents for God’s glory, and this church will be powered by the solar panels. This system will give light for nighttime prayer gatherings, church meetings and Bible studies — what an awesome thought!” said Crenshaw.

When the team was able to get up on the roof of the hospital and take measurements, they found the area where they planned to install the panels was more than twice the size they had believed, allowing for an even larger solar panel system.

“The project became ‘real’ when we stood on that roof, in a way that we haven’t really felt as we’ve worked on it throughout the course of the year,” said Crenshaw. “To actually see the hospital that has helped so many, to stand in the place where our system will be installed, and to see how God provides for even those who have so little. It was eye-opening to say the least.”

“I remember how ecstatic the three of us were the first time on the hospital roof imagining the solar panel design,” said Dunn. “I really enjoyed presenting our project, drawings, and plans to the HCO leaders, and seeing how excited they were too!”

The group helped with construction during the week by making and transporting compressed earth block, working on a diesel truck the ministry had acquired, painting the pharmacy walls and re-engineering curtains to hang in operating rooms. They also took some time to have fun with the local children.

“You don’t know how bad you are at soccer until you’re outplayed by a 10-year-old in bare feet,” said Crenshaw.

After building relationships with the local people throughout the week, it was difficult to leave. The team hopes to return to Peredo next year to oversee the installation of the panels and control system.

“I had never been to another country, other than a brief trip over the border to Canada, and Haiti will be an experience I will not easily forget,” Dunn said. “It was an unforgettable feeling to think how our team will impact another culture.”

 “We have some redesigning to do, and a lot of work left to finish before graduation, but the goal of our project is clearer than ever,” Crenshaw said. “We are designing a system to provide clean, renewable power in a place that’s showing the love of Jesus to people daily. Our hope and prayer is that God takes this system and uses it to improve the lives of the people of Peredo — whether they need healing, education or a community of believers to remind them that they are loved by an incredible God.

 “We prayed over the project before bringing it to Dr. Canino, and our hope was (and still is) that this can inspire other engineering students to put their talents toward improving the lives of others for their senior design projects.”

Those who are interested in the team’s work and other senior design projects can find out more during the 15th annual Engineering Design Expo to be held Friday, May 5, on the Trine University campus.