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ECE students giving back to the community through senior design projects

Student presents a solar energy process

Embracing and partnering with the community is one of the key elements of UIC’s strategic priorities. And 16 students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) are taking this mission to heart and using their engineering knowledge and skills to help four Chicago nonprofits.

Under the direction of ECE Clinical Assistant Professor Renata A. Revelo, the students partnered with Enlace Chicago, Lakeview Pantry, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and People for Community Recovery to give back to local nonprofit agencies that are supporting Chicago residents.

“The students are working in teams on the projects as part of their senior design coursework at UIC, but the projects will take them to areas throughout Chicago,” said Revelo.

The nonprofits provided a problem statement, during the spring 2017 semester, the students along with the organizations, worked to refine the problem statement and develop a solution. At the end of the semester, the teams presented their ideas to the organizations.

“I’m ecstatic to know they will be coming back next semester to finish what they started,” said Executive Director Cheryl Johnson, of People for Community Recovery in Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens community. “It’s important to have partnerships between community-based organizations and college students. Doing the project in the community will give them real-world experience.”

Enlace Chicago

The team of Emmanuel Leon, Deep Shah, Hemant Rawat and Allen Chavez are developing NeoSnap for Enlace Chicago.

Enlace is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of the residents of the Little Village community by fostering a physically safe and healthy environment and by championing opportunities for educational advancement and economic development.

Using a photo booth app has allowed Enlace to engage the community by making its events interactive and fun. The program is great for marketing, too. Unfortunately, the program will no longer be maintained by the developer and the maintenance costs are too high.

Instead of losing an important tool, the ECE students introduced NeoSnap. It is a dedicated photo booth device that will take pictures of people and allow users to upload to a social media site of their choosing or print the pictures. To further NeoSnap’s capabilities, the team plans to turn it into an educational tool, too. The ECE students will provide the organization with a user manual so users of all skill levels can operate it and even create a replica of the device. The students want NeoSnap to foster interest in the STEM field for students in the Little Village community.

Lakeview Pantry

The team of Jody Randhawa, Jake Wang, Kevin Puetz and Matt Kaczmarczyk are partnering with the Lakeview Pantry to streamline its inventory system.

The pantry’s mission is to eliminate hunger and poverty in the community by providing food to fill the basic need of hungry people, increasing the independence of its clients through self-help initiatives and other innovative programs, and raising awareness of hunger and poverty and working toward solutions to eliminate them.

The pantry lacks a computerized inventory system, and relies on pencil, paper and an estimate of how much food they have or will require in the future. They have deemed this a growing issue as they plan to expand their operations.

To address the issue, the ECE students are constructing QWIC (Quantitative Weight Indication Contraption), which will provide a quick, easy and seamless way for a user to obtain accurate, real-time data on how much food, in terms of weight, is present on a shelf. The system will record the shelf weight daily and have the data accessible for further calculations or accounting.

With QWIC, the pantry will have an updated system, which will allow them to focus more time on the eradication of hunger and poverty.

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization

The team of Anastasios Kokkinias, Juan Abrego, Charalambos Nicolaou and Miguel Hernandez proposed the Grecos lantern system for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO).

LVEJO’s mission is to organize with the community to accomplish environmental justice and achieve the self-determination of immigrant, low-income, and working-class families. Its vision is to build a sustainable community that promotes the healthy development of youth and families, provides economic justice, and practices participatory democracy and self-determination.

The organization has a garden that acts as a community hub and event space. Unfortunately, the space does not have lighting and activity ends when the sun sets.

To help LVEJO get more out of the garden, the students are recommending its Grecos lantern system, which will provide the necessary lighting to extend the time of activities.

The system will be comprised of a charging dock with wireless transmitters. The lanterns will rest upon it and the built-in wireless receivers will charge the batteries. Colored LEDs will notify the user when each lantern’s battery is empty or at full capacity. Additionally, solar panels will channel the necessary energy from the sun to power the docking station and charge the lantern’s batteries.

People for Community Recovery

The team of Roxane Vitorillo, Carlos Ramirez, Nikolay Stepin and Dominick Przybylo are working with the People for Community Recovery (PCR) on the South Side of Chicago.

PCR’s mission is to enhance the quality of life of residents living in communities affected by pollution. It educates and advocates policy and programs in an effort to coordinate local residents on issues of the environment, health, housing, neighborhood safety, and economic equity.

PCR wants to build a museum and training and research facilities to promote green energy and a cleaner environment, reduce the crime rate among the youth in the community, attract researchers, and provide a means for additional educational and professional opportunities to the community.

The students’ proposed project is aimed at developing a way to power the buildings by using mostly — if not all — renewable energy sources. The students are reviewing energy consumption, the life cycle costs of HVAC, lights, and hot water. They also are evaluating the payback of various renewable energy sources or green energy solutions like photovoltaic solar panels, wind turbines, and high efficiency appliances.

All these partnerships are part of a pilot section of the department’s senior design course. Revelo sees this as an opportunity for the students to give back to the community while building stronger relationships between the ECE department and local organizations. Her goal is to increase the number of partnerships each year.

“This effort is aligned with one of the UIC strategic priorities of Chicago and community engagement,” said Dr. Rashid Ansari, ECE Department Head.

Throughout the fall 2017 semester, the students will implement the projects, and they are slated to present the projects during a mini expo at the end of the semester.