Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Student Project: Alaskan Field Trip


Photograph by Kevin Yang.

Professor Douglas Van Citters, along with a group of Thayer undergraduates, traveled to a remote Alaskan island in June to install a hydroelectric system for the Inian Islands Institute. The institute, an ecological field school founded by four Stanford PhD graduates, for years had relied on a diesel generator for power. Recently, however, the institute decided to switch to a greener energy source—a micro-hydroelectric system. 

Through a connection made by Professor Laura Ray, who served as interim dean for the past year, Thayer offered to send a team of students to do the actual installation. 

The students had one week to complete the job.

“It’s one thing to design something at your desk, manufacture it, and change the design and repeat the process if necessary—it’s a totally different thing to make design changes onsite, in real time, with no equipment, no computer, and no plumber nearby,” Van Citters says. “It took every minute of the seven days to get the system installed. Everything takes longer than expected, and for all of your planning, things will fall apart.”

Students traveled to Alaska to install a hydroelectric system

Photograph by Kevin Yang.

Abby Brazil ’21, Mallory Byrd ’19 Th’20, Marisa Magsarili ’19 Th’20, Ben Saccone ’20, and Kevin Yang ’20, who accompanied Van Citters on the trip, grappled with many unexpected challenges. At one point, because water pressure had built up in one of the 1,200-foot pipes on the property, the students dealt with an explosion that flooded the generator, batteries, and inverter, cutting the power and water for the whole site.

“When you are out on a remote island and resources are limited, you are more aware of the amount of resources being used and the waste being produced,” says Magsarili. “Working on the Inian Islands was a strong reminder about what organisms and ecosystems we are aiming to preserve when installing these renewable energy systems.”

—James Bressor

Categories: The Great Hall, Engineers Without Borders, Student Projects

Tags: energy, environment, humanitarian service, projects, students

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