Collaborative project improves the health of a community

July 10, 2017

McMaster Engineering

McMaster students, Beasley Neighbourhood residents and Beasley Neighbourhood Association (BNA) members celebrating the installation of a weather station in the Elgin St. Alleyway. The station was designed to monitor pollution, noise, temperature and other factors in the environment. 

At first glance, it looks like a non-descript mass of metal and gauges.

But the patchwork of pipes represents a partnership between a community group and several McMaster engineering students who are working together to improve an impoverished Hamilton neighbourhood.

For several months, members of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association (BNA) and volunteers from McMaster have worked together to engineer a weather station in an Elgin Street alleyway. The station, put together with old industrial parts, is designed to monitor pollution, noise, temperature and other factors.

The weather station’s artistic structure is in place but the microcontroller, the device that gathers information, is still in development. Once complete, information will be collected and sent to the City of Hamilton on an ongoing basis to help support decisions being made on improvements to the neighbourhood. Beasley residents will also be able to visit a website to learn about the environment.

The weather station is one of two projects McMaster and the BNA have collaborated on as part of the BNA’s neighbourhood revitalization plan.

The plan identified alleyways as a part of the neighbourhood that residents wanted to improve. The weather station is helping to transform the Elgin Street alleyway into a safe and vibrant place.

“The project allows the City of Hamilton to understand the health of the community and what the community needs to make it a better place to live,” said Louise Gazzola, Experiential Program Coordinator, Faculty of Engineering at McMaster. “It is an excellent example of community-based learning and how the three levels of community – university administration, local neighbourhood citizens and engineering students – have come together to improve the Hamilton community.”  

When the BNA approached Gazzola to work on this project in 2015, she was keen to help.  Gazzola, whose role focuses on giving students experience outside the classroom, recruited four students for the weather station project, and seven students for the second project, the Beasley Lab for Inventive Kids (BLINK).

BLINK teaches Grade 4 and 5 students at Dr. Edgar Davey Elementary School, located in the Beasley Neighbourhood, the basics of computer programming using Arduino, an easy-to-use electronics platform, so that students can understand how the weather station works.

Four volunteers from Let’s Talk Science, a McMaster outreach program that motivates and empowers youth to learn about science, technology and engineering, were also involved with BLINK.

“We helped children understand the basics of computers and how computers can help us understand the world around us,” said Vinay Yuvashankar, a Let’s Talk Science volunteer and MSc student in Software Engineering.  

BLINK session topics included algorithms, elements of programming and building a thermostat. McMaster also supplied the school with 30 microcontroller lab kits so that kids can conduct their own programming and electronics experiments.

“It was amazing because the kids understood it so quickly. We knew that if we taught them the content in the right manner that the kids could excel at it,” Yuvashankar said.

Sessions continued this past winter with help from several members of McMaster’s Solar Car team. Next year, the team plans to develop BLINK as an after-school program at Dr. Davey.  

“Watching the kids face when they get it ‑ You see it as a wave throughout the entire classroom,” Yuvashankar said. “It was challenging to put the lesson plan together but at the end of the day, seeing the kids just light up it made it worth it.”

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