DHE receives national recognition

Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering was recently recognized by Dell, Inc. on May 14 and the Environmental Protection Agency on May 12 for its work in Rwanda, according to DHE administrative advisor Carrie Fraser ’86 Th’87, the assistant dean for academic and student affairs at the Thayer School of Engineering.

DHE is now one of three finalists out of 1,800 applicants in the Dell Social Innovation Challenge and won a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency after entering its grant competition, “P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability,” according to DHE member Scott Gladstone ’15.

The organization works to take advantage of Thayer’s engineering resources and put them toward humanitarian work in impoverished communities, according to DHE Vice President of Marketing Alison Polton-Simon ’14. DHE currently has two projects in Africa. One involves working to implement cleaner cook stoves and fuel sources in Tanzania and the other is a hydropower project in Rwanda, Polton-Simon said.

The project in Rwanda received the EPA grant and Dell competition recognition, according to Polton-Simon. The project involves using small-scale hydropower to generate electricity in Rwandan communities that are “decades away” from accessing the national grid.

The group first began work in Rwanda in 2008 when DHE students flew to the site and installed the project. Villagers trained as technicians by DHE manage the site and charge batteries that local people can use in their homes for lighting or to run a radio, Polton-Simon said.

“This method allows for a large distribution model and serves well in a decentralized community,” she said. “We also don’t have to worry about stringing up wires for a grid, which can be dangerous.”

Polton-Simon also said that the project is interesting in ways beyond product technicalities. The business side of socially-conscious technologies can be very complex as well, she said.

“This is in fact where the biggest challenges are,” she said. “Doing the technology work and trying to make a cleaner burning stove seems relatively simple compared to creating a sustainable distribution model or making plans about how to keep the project running. To really have an impact, to do something like refrigeration, the goal is to keep scaling up the size of the sites.”

Gladstone said that DHE completed different application processes for the EPA grant and Dell challenge.

“The [EPA] grant application process was definitely more formal,” he said. “We had to formally put together our project with proposals about specific subject areas. On the other hand, the Dell challenge was much more competition-based and about selling ourselves’ over our competitors.”

DHE submitted its proposal for the EPA’s competition in December and received word that it was recommended for EPA funding on May 12, according to Polton-Simon. For the Dell project, DHE began its application in January and were announced as semifinalists on March 23.

Entering the Dell Social Innovation Challenge was Gladstone’s idea, he said. After researching competitions on the Internet and hearing about a similar program from a friend, he decided to propose it to the rest of the organization, he said.

“The Dell challenge was exactly what we were looking for,” he said. “It is geared toward university students who want to make a difference.”

DHE’s mission is unique because its members aim to have a long-term presence and create sustainable technologies and business models, Fraser said.

“They really try to create solutions that can become lasting parts of impoverished communities,” Fraser said.

Fraser said she was not surprised by the organization’s recent successes.

“I know that they really are noble in their achievements, and they are very deserving of their recognition,” she said.

Polton-Simon is a former member of The Dartmouth Staff.

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