FAIRLEA — Building on the success of their 2016 InvenTeam project with Lemelson-MIT, the students and mentors in Kevin Warfield’s pre-engineering class at Greenbrier East High School decided to go international this year.
Twelve GEHS students and a matching number of pupils from the Anglo School in Sorocaba, Sao Paulo, Brazil, are now immersed in a collaboration to design an earth-friendly social/community area at the Anglo School.
“Tony Perry at MIT contacted me last fall to gauge interest in doing an international project,” Warfield said in a recent interview at Greenbrier East. “It seemed like a nice challenge.”
Warfield spent the spring emailing schools all over the world — China, Canada, England, France, Brazil and more — getting the lay of the land and finding the best fit for his class’ involvement.
“We were just waiting for somebody to bite,” he said.
Warfield struck gold when he contacted the Anglo School, finding enthusiasm in students and instructors alike for the green architecture project. Biology teacher Vivian Ruberti is Warfield’s counterpart at the Anglo School, where there is no pre-engineering curriculum.
“It’s a big challenge,” a smiling Ruberti said in a teleconference hookup between the two schools. “It’s my first experience with a project like this. It’s so exciting to work with recycling. The engineering is very new and interesting.”
The focus of the project is the creation of an outdoor area where students can relax, study and socialize within a 5,000-square-foot green space on the campus of the private Brazilian school.
It’s a “parallel project,” Warfield explained, with six teams of four students — two on each team from each school — working on a segment of the task at hand and communicating with each other via teleconference and other electronic means. Eventually, the finished designs will be reproduced on each school’s campus.
Greenbrier East senior Joyce Bernardino pointed out that the Anglo School green space that is the true focus of the project is currently empty, giving the students a clean canvas on which to work.
“Our idea is to set up a picnic area and study area that will be eco-friendly,” Joyce said, noting that “green” features now under consideration include rainwater collection and composting systems, as well as “furniture” construction using inexpensive recyclable materials available in Brazil.
“We’re very excited,” she said, adding, “Language is really not a problem.”
The Anglo School students involved in the project tend to be quite fluent in English, and when an unfamiliar word or phrase crops up, teens on both sides of the equator benefit from assistance from Warfield’s volunteer translator, Dr. Daniela Mendes. Mendes, whose husband works at ABB in Lewisburg, was a pharmacist and researcher in her native Brazil, but now devotes most of her time to her two young children.
Greenbrier East senior Madisyn Fox has taken full advantage of the present situation and is learning to speak Portuguese, with encouragement from her Brazilian peers.
The cultural exchange that is an integral part of the project is already one of the highlights for many of the students.
“It’s cool to see (the Anglo School students’) take on the project — with them not being engineering students,” Madisyn said.
Joyce agreed, saying, “The knowledge they bring to the table is what makes engineering so interesting.”
Five of the Anglo School students — Henrique Marandon, Fabio Miwa, Felippe Moraes, Gustavo Alves and Mariama Soares — also spoke with The Register-Herald via teleconference, expressing great enthusiasm for the opportunity to interact with the U.S. students. All of the Brazilian students are in their first or second year of high school and between 15 and 16 years old.
“I like the idea of design and creating stuff for school,” Henrique said.
His favorite part of the project, he said, is the “experience working with an American school.” The 15-year-old said he enjoys meeting people from other countries, exclaiming, “I’m a citizen of the world.”
Mariama was also thrilled to meet people from another country, saying, “I’ve never been in a project as big as this one.”
Gustavo’s interest was focused primarily on the design aspect of the project.
“I’m in the project mostly for design and working with computer programs,” he said. Although this is the first such collaboration he’s been involved in, Gustavo commented, “I would like to do it again.”
Fabio is a budding environmentalist who also enjoys the international collaboration.
“The design project is about recycling; it’s good for the environment,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to meet new people and to (use) recyclables.”
Felippe, who brings math skills to the table, said he sees the project as a way to “expand (his) mind and meet new people.”
“I’m learning a lot that I had never thought of before,” he said. “This is so different than I’ve ever done, and I like it.”
Greenbrier East project teammates Joe Londeree and Norris Beard, both juniors, are quite serious about engineering and feel they have a future in the field.
Interested in that arena since eighth grade, the young men have attended engineering camp at WVU and are now tackling design issues for the lounge area in the Anglo School’s green space.
“We can use recycled materials to build, but we can’t build (permanent) structures,” Norris said.
Acknowledging that they must use recyclables that can be obtained in Brazil, he noted, “They have a lot of fabrics and wood pallets.”
Joe said the cultural gap showed up early in the process. When he suggested a miniature golf course as one feature of the recreational area, the response from the Brazilian students was, “What’s miniature golf?”
Jake Bridges’ focus is on the study area, where he envisions seats on the ground and “little turbines” creating energy.
“I want to find ways in the project to innovate energy production,” he said, noting it could also factor into the rainwater collection endeavor.
Morgan Amos said there was a need for “lots of seating,” but she also was looking at ways to bring tree-like structures into the mix, to provide visual relief in the otherwise featureless green space. Those structures could also take advantage of the frequent rains in Brazil, perhaps offering an opportunity to collect water in tubing along the “branches.”
Another way to introduce height to the temporary structures in the study space, Morgan said, would be to create a system of bird feeders. She noted that the absence of squirrels in Brazil would make operating bird feeders easier.
The student engineers will soon begin building prototypes of the seating, picnic tables and other structures out of cardboard, to test out their designs before their Brazilian teammates begin to construct the actual components.
“Everyone is fully committed,” Warfield said. “It’s been truly collaborative. This is going to be fun.”
Emphasizing that the teens “handle all the workload,” he also credited the mentors who work with the pre-engineering class for the hours they put in, lending a guiding hand or advice where needed.
In addition to Warfield and his wife, Michelle, who is also an educator, the team of mentors working on this project includes acclaimed designer and architect TAG Galyean, CEO and president of Four-JAKS Inc. Scott E. Beard, engineer and designer Eddie Booze and Tracy Dye, general manager and global GC product line manager for the ABB Analytical Products manufacturing unit in Lewisburg.
In addition, the ongoing involvement of Tony Perry, invention education coordinator at the Lemelson-MIT program, “gives the project credibility,” Warfield said.
Warfield said the project probably will wrap up in the spring, at which time he wants to take the students to Sorocaba for part of the actual build-out on the Anglo School campus. He said he also hopes the Brazilian students can visit Greenbrier County.
In order to provide the money to take all 12 participating Greenbrier East students, plus four chaperones, to Brazil for a week, a GoFundMe page with a goal of $35,000 has been set up, Warfield said.
“We don’t want the kids to have to worry about money,” he said.
Anyone interested in assisting this international educational endeavor can contribute at www.gofundme.com/gehs-intl-design-team-travel.