New solar-powered tables funded by student sustainability fees

Blakeley Bartee

Outside the IT Building, four SolGreen Evodia Mini SmartTables—solar-powered patio tables with built-in charging stations—were installed this past December to provide an outdoor location for students to work and socialize while recharging their devices.

These SmartTables are equipped with four power outlets and four USB outlets, shut down automatically during rainstorms, can last five to seven days on stored power during overcast weather and contain LED lights for nighttime use.

Robert Lake, associate professor of Curriculum, Foundation and Reading, proposed the project and received a sustainability grant to fund the tables. The project’s $40,950 grant was funded by Student Sustainability Fees, which fund several sustainability projects proposed by students, faculty and staff every year.

“I felt that to have these solar panels would raise awareness of the possibilities of alternative sources of energy in a time where we need to start diversifying energy resources,” Lake said. “We have a chance to make a difference.”

One of the four tables is specifically designed to be wheelchair accessible, and the remaining three will generally accommodate wheelchairs as well, according to Lake.

Located in a high-traffic area and popular lunch spot, the SmartTables have already garnered attention from some students.

“I think it’s a really good idea. I like that they added the coverage over them, too, to make that space more accessible and more usable,” Jessica Headrick, senior writing and linguistics major, said.

Lissa Leege, biology professor and director of the Center for Sustainability, noted the benefits of having the solar-powered tables on campus.

“You and I both know that our devices are always running out of power, and you need to be able to plug them in sometimes, and there’s not always an easy place to do that, especially when you’re outside,” Leege said. “Now, you can sit and work at that table, plug in that laptop, plug in that iPhone or whatever it is you need to recharge, and you can enjoy being outdoors and charging that device at the same time.”

While the tables benefit students and faculty, some difficulties were encountered during the installation of the tables.

“The tables and canopies did come in some very large wood crates that were a little challenging to move them (sic) from the warehouse to the CEIT building patio,” James Grigg, director of Facilities Operation, said.

Leege feels that it’s important for people to propose projects like the SmartTables, so the students fees can be used to assist student lives and be sustainable at the same time.

“I think having the student fee in place has really opened the door for our campus to improve in sustainability by leaps and bounds. Because anybody with a good idea can apply to get those funds,” Leege said. “Now, there’s this great mechanism by which we can actually allocate funds to reduce our ecological footprint and become a greener campus.”

Photo courtesy of Kelly Lowery.