Sun shines on UQ lessons outside the classroom

13 Sep 2010
Solar power, water hardness, and rural isolation are all part of the learning curve for a group of students at The University of Queensland’s Business School. The nine students have just returned from Dajarra, about 150km south of Mt Isa, where they installed two solar-powered desalination units. The trip was an extension of a project they started in an entrepreneurship course, which challenged them to identify a community need and design and complete a project to solve that need. Course co-ordinator, Dr Lance Newey, said the two desalination units, donated by Australian business F Cubed, made a big difference. “Learning in the field dramatically enhanced the learning in the classroom,” Dr Newey said. “The students were able to witness first-hand the significant impact entrepreneurship projects can have on needy communities.” Dajarra, an Aboriginal settlement with a population of only 230 people, had very “calcified” water sourced from a bore. Residents said the water from the bore was horrible to taste, gave off a foul odour, was unpleasant for showering and damaged plumbing. Dr Newey said the units were placed on the roof of Dajarra’s community hall, where all residents could benefit from the desalinated water. “Essentially you flow the bore water into solar panels which capture sunlight, which heats the water,” he said. “Then this particular technology separates out the very heavy chemical water from that water which is more purified as it undergoes a heating process.” Students learned how to develop strategies for community-wide project adoption, how to work as a team and how to manage risks, Dr Newey said. Student Nate Myers, credited with being the project’s driving force, said the trip to Dajarra was the best experience of his life. “Before we went, I heard a quote from a resident of Dajarra. He said he hoped that in his lifetime someone would fix the groundwater issue. We have now taken the first step,” Mr Myers said. “Until I heard that quote, I didn’t realise there were places like Dajarra in Australia which didn’t have access to drinkable water.” Dr Newey said the trip had cemented a working relationship with people at Dajarra and he hoped to extend the project. Media: Cathy Stacey (3346 8068)