We’ve all been there.

It’s a glorious Chico day and you’d like nothing more than to sit outside and get some work done. But your phone or laptop just doesn’t have the juice to get by without a power source.

Well, a team of engineering students has come to our rescue! This week, the AS Solar Charging Station opened on the Bell Memorial Union terrace, offering campus and the community eight traditional power outlets and four USB portals from the comfort of a shaded table. It revolutionizes solar technology as the nation’s first student-designed and built solar charging station, using thin-film photovoltaic panels, with support from ECC technical staff and Facilities Management and Services.

“My hope is everyone is going to be using this all the time,” said Eric Marquis, who completed the project with Salam Ali, Jairo Orozco, Maythem Alhaddad, and Chao Vang as part of the Capstone Design Program through the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronic Engineering and Sustainable Manufacturing. They all graduated in May but returned Thursday for a celebration of the station.

Student engineers unveiled the nation's first student-designed/built solar charging station using thin-film photovoltaic panels, next to the BMU, for a media event for Thursday, August 25, 2016 in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/University Photographer)

“It’s so exciting to know I gave back to a university that gave me so much, to utilize the knowledge we gained here and say, ‘This is our thank-you—this is the culmination of our knowledge,’” said Ali, the project manager. “It fills me with pride, for myself, for my college and for the University.”

A project a year in the making, the station is a standalone, off-grid electrical system powered by a 600-watt solar photovoltaic array of thin-film panels facing south, east, and west, and a 12-volt 780-amp battery bank. It will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays through Fridays. Users must provide their own charging cables.

As soon as the fences came down Tuesday morning, students flocked to the outlets, charging an array of personal portable electronics. As one user realized, the outlets themselves are a great place to prop up a textbook—an unintended perk.

According to its student designers, the project is the first solar-powered charging station in the nation to utilize thin-film photovoltaic panels, which are more versatile, resilient, and efficient than traditional panels. It is also the first to provide users with the ability to monitor power generation and consumption in real-time, a service that will soon be available on the University website.

Salam Ali runs tests on her solar charging station in Langdon Hall on Thursday, April 21, 2016 in Chico, Calif. Ali is a part of Society of Women Engineers, has managed the climbing wall at the WREC, held/organized Muslim events on campus, and is participating in Capstone Engineering Project program. (Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Salam Ali runs tests on the solar charging station prototype in April.

Students fabricated the steel frame benches in campus labs. The wooden tabletop and seating was salvaged from a 300-year-old fallen blue pine in Red Bluff, with the students performing all the sanding, priming, and veneer work—as well as a decorative inlay serving as a shout-out to the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management (ECC).

  “I’ve talked to a few people at other universities. They don’t have a senior design capstone program like this, where you have to solve a real-world problem,” Ali said.

“So much of engineering is theoretical, but Chico State prides itself in giving its students a leg up. How amazing is this? It’s a student-designed, student-completed project, and we didn’t even have our diplomas yet.”

In addition to supporting campus sustainability initiatives, the solar charging station is a demonstration of academic excellence where a team of engineering students designed and built a unique campus facility with the guidance of faculty and technical staff who shared their theoretical and hands-on expertise, said Professor Greg Kallio, the Capstone project advisor.

Trenten Bilodeaux, a liberal studies major, is credited with the original idea. He wanted a commitment to sustainability people could see, and his engineering friends pointed him to Kallio, who had a vision for just such a project but was in need of funding.

Bilodeaux, inspired by one of his general education pathway courses, wrote a grant application to the Sustainability Fund Allocation Committee (SFAC) to help secure the funds.

Unlike the engineering students who orchestrated its design and installation, he received no class credit for his role. It was all from the goodness of his heart and love for campus.

“I’m a legacy child—both my parents went here. I wanted to give back to Chico State,” he said. “I hope I can come back as an alum and see people sitting here. And now that we’ve done one, I think we can do more!”

The $16,000 project was funded through the SFAC and the ECC. College of ECC technical staff, Facilities Management and Services, and Transfer Flow, Inc., of Chico provided specialized fabrication and assembly to complete the installation.

Student engineers Chao Vang, Maytham Alhaddad, Salam Ali, Erik Marquis, and Jairo Orozco (left to right) unveiled the nation's first student-designed/built solar charging station using thin-film photovoltaic panels, next to the BMU, for a media event for Thursday, August 25, 2016 in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Front row, from left, student engineers Chao Vang, Maytham Alhaddad, Salam Ali, Erik Marquis, and Jairo Orozco unveiled the nation’s first student-designed and built solar charging station using thin-film photovoltaic panels, with support from ECC technical staff and Facilities Management and Services.