Made in Hostos, Classroom Invention for Community

by Biao Jiang, Assistant Professor
Natural Sciences Department


Service Learning is normally defined as “a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development. Reciprocity and reflection are key concepts of service-learning” (Jacoby et al., p. 5). Learning for the student and service to the community are two essential elements of service learning. For engineering students, service learning becomes a design problem: provide service useful to the community by applying subject matter of a core course. According to the National Society for Experiential Education, a good service learning practice includes: an effective and sustained program that engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good; allows for those with needs to define those needs; provides structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on the service experience; and includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation (Honnett and Poulsen, 1989).


In my course for engineering students, some of the learning objectives include sensor familiarity and use, programming, data analysis, network communication and written communication. At the same time, several neighborhood groups in NYC have become concerned with environmental pollution. Environmental pollution impacts our indoor and outdoor surroundings, technical, scientific, social and economic fields. Environmental pollution is an issue that requires our attention. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), an air quality index (AQI) between 301 and 500 is hazardous, meaning people should avoid all outdoor activity. The World Health Organization has standards that judge a score above 500 to be more than 20 times the level of particulate matter in the air deemed safe. A number of occupational and community noise studies have considered noise as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Many of the studies in occupational settings have indicated that workers exposed to high levels of industrial noise during 5 to 30 years have increased blood pressure and a statistically significant increase in risk for hypertension compared to workers in control areas. I became aware of the concern through local news. My students were sent out in several groups at different times and to different locations to measure noise pollution, and some of my students worked on collecting air quality issue reports from local newspapers. They reported the results in state-wide student research conferences.


After identifying the potential opportunity to serve the community, the next phase of this service learning project is to design a low-cost, cloud-based smart device named Cloud-based Environment Monitoring Smart Device (CEMSD) that monitors different environmental parameters such as air quality, noise, temperature and humidity so that community residents could receive an environmental alert on time and collected environmental data could be used by policy makers to make proper decisions to help relieve pollution issues. Based on the purpose of the design, a group of 5 students worked on different aspects of this deliverable invention including system architecture, hardware design, software design, program debugging and system testing. The CEMSD is designed to serve as a multipurpose device.


The CEMSD, a low-cost device, uses the RPi 3 to interact with five sensors such as the DHT11, Grove-Loudness, Grove dust, Cozir Wide Range 100% and the MQ131. The CEMSD collects data from targeted locations. The collected data is sent to the ThingSpeak cloud by using its Application Program Interface (API). The data in the cloud can be accessed by the user from a wired or wireless connection. Real time cloud graphical visualization is performed to analyze the collected data. The Ambient Air Quality Standards (AAQS), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) standard indoor environmental parameters are used to set up desired indoor environmental thresholds. When the CEMSD collects data through a wireless network that is below or above the set-up thresholds, a notification is sent to the subscribed user via social media. Social media will keep the subscribed user updated and create awareness of the environment conditions that could harm the user. The integration of social media into the CEMSD will be beneficial for Smart Cities because it can be used to trigger control action once the environmental index exceeds the threshold by helping reduce the level of pollution, saving energy and providing an enhanced living environment.


Service learning is found to impact positively: personal development, interpersonal development, social responsibility, community and college connections. Compared with previous classes without service learning projects, students are found to be more proactive, more curious; working harder and connecting learning to personal experiences, and demonstrating deeper understanding of subject matter.



Jacoby, Barbara. Service-learning in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996. p. 5. Print.

Honnett, Ellen P. and Poulsen, Susan J., “Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning,” 1989. Guides. Paper 27.

US Environmental Protection Agency Family of Websites. Particulate Matter (PM) Pollution. August 17, 2017. Accessed November 2, 2017,



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