Friday, 10 July 2015

Intern Spotlight: Julia Fair

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Last November, CTI and Northland College established the CTI/Northland College Wendy and Malcolm McLean Internship in memory of Malcolm McLean, President of Northland College from 1971 to 1987 and CTI Executive Director from 1991 to 1995. I was selected for this internship, which included the opportunity to go to Nicaragua for a week. As a Sociology and Sustainable Community Development major with an emphasis in social justice, I was interested in CTI because its mission connects both of my majors. I have always enjoyed travel for experiential learning, so I was very excited to go to Nicaragua and see CTI’s work firsthand.
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While in Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to observe two groups of engineering students from Iowa State's “Human-Centered Design in Nicaragua” course. Human-centered design is an approach to engineering that focuses on listening to people’s needs to produce appropriate and sustainable technologies. The students grappled with how to design the most effective water catchment system (using a ram pump, or bomba ariete in Spanish) and biochar reactor. Biochar is a charcoal produced from leftover biomass, such as grass or manure, which produces a rich fertilizer when burned.

Since I’m not an engineering student, I asked a lot of questions about why the groups made the choices that they did, taking notes of their experiences throughout the design process. I primarily observed the bomba ariete group, whose design was able to pump water from large catchment sources, such as streams or rivers, to a smaller source uphill—using only the energy from the flowing water.    

Every student on my trip has worried about whether or not they will make a lasting impact with their technology. I think that this says a lot about this program—both the curriculum and the students who participate. Focusing on human-centered design led them to approach their projects without assumptions—they interviewed the people that they designed the technologies for so they were able to get an understanding of the needs of their clients. I think that their focus on human-centered design had a positive effect on how they approach their projects.  Under the human-centered design approach, the designer needs to understand the cultural relations between human interaction with places, objects, institutions, and other people. Well-meaning agencies may send materials to areas that are not useful or usable, because the agencies have not asked what will work best for the area. By taking the time to understand people’s needs, projects have much greater potential for successful adoption and powerful impact.

At the end of each day, the group would come together to debrief. I always enjoyed this part of the day, listening as the students offered each other feedback and brainstormed potential solutions together. CTI Program Director Wes Meier and Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability (EOS) employees also joined in—it was incredible to see the interaction between staff and students. The different perspectives allowed the students to step away from their project and analyze potential issues that they had not considered during the day.

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible! It was a life changing experience and I am so grateful for my time in Nicaragua. 

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Julia Fair is entering her senior year at Northland College this fall. She is double-majoring in Sociology with a Social Justice Emphasis and Sustainable Community Development. After finishing her internship with CTI, Julia will begin an internship with the Peace Corps Ambassador program as well as an internship with an immigration lawyer based in Ashland, WI.




Saturday, 01 August 2009

Wooden Grinder Nears Market

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Volunteer LeAnn Taylor, practicing the Wood Grinder assembly

Over the past year we have had several parties express an interest in our wooden grinder. In each case we have been able to send to them our engineering drawings of the grinder. In all cases, these drawing have not been able to fill the needs of those interested in this break-through technology. For some, the electronic transfer has not been successful; for others, a lack of exposure to three dimensional  presentations was not understood; for still others, the use of “English units” was an impediment.

Thanks to the outstanding work of Brigette Blesi, all of these problems have been overcome. Brigette has taken an existing wooden grinder and broken it (not literally) down into its individual components. A template was then made for each of the seventeen wooden parts with dimensions given in both Metric and English units. Brigette then identified each of the 97 fasteners, by number, and researched the closest metric part size that corresponded so as to complete the Bill of Materials.

The next step was for Brigette to establish the step by step assembly procedure. Anyone who has ever had “nice” things to say about assembly instructions now can claim that they know someone who has written one of these procedures. Every piece of wood, every fastener, every metal part s could be translated into action????

TaDa!!! Enter our guinea pig…otherwise known to her friends as LeAnn Taylor. LeAnn will be taking a wooden grinder down to El Salvador this month to determine if the wooden technology will expand our impact with the bakers of El Salvador. LeAnn used Brigette’s instructions and her part identification techniques to reassemble the grinder, not once, but twic e. Well done LeAnn! Now she can teach our colleagues in El Salvador how to make a wooden grinder.

Major kudos to Brigette for all this exacting and accurate work! We are one step closer to getting our wooden grinder accepted as an alternative, cheaper and more sustainable technology.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Thank You, Volunteers

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Volunteers are the heart and soul of CTI.  To recognize their hard work and dedication we held a Volunteer Recognition Event earlier this month at the Biosystems and Bioproducts Engineering Department of the University of Minnesota.  The turnout was impressive (over 40 volunteers!) and we wanted to take this opportunity to again mention how much we value their hard work.  Our volunteers – who are engineers, food scientists, volunteer travelers, Board members, Information Technology providers, art and design experts… the list goes on – make CTI what it is! They champion projects, develop technologies, support our work at home and overseas, and keep CTI moving forward.  Thank you!

As another way to reognize our volunteers, we will begin regularly featuring short biographies of different volunteers in our Post Harvest.  For our first segment, we’d like to highlight our 2008 Volunteer of the Year, Ruth MacDonald.Ruth is the one to thank for our beautiful 2007 and 2008 Annual Reports, as well as our new website that will be coming out in early 2009.   She has volunteered many hours of her time and expertise to create these beautiful publications, and is revamping our website as part of her capstone project for her Masters Degree in Scientific and Technical Communications at Metropolitan State University.Ruth was introduced to CTI by volunteer Steve Clarke shortly after her involvement with the Peace Corps took her to Mali in 2003.  At the time, Ruth and her husband Mike were searching for groups to volunteer with and, after seeing the need in Mali for simple, appropriate technologies to assist the people in processing their crops, were drawn to CTI’s mission to create just such solutions.

Ruth majored in Biological and Pre-Medical Illustration at Iowa State University and went on to work as a medical photographer and forensic photographer (among other things) before heading to Mali with the Peace Corps.Ruth now works at American Medical Systems as a technical writer, and enjoys biking, camping, and working in the garden where, her husband says, “She really gets into compost.”Thanks for all your hard work, Ruth!