Solar-Powered Stations: Campus Eyesore or Communal Innovation? 

Milena Mata | Contributor |

Photo By: Michael Dunn | Photographer

Earlier this year, 40 solar-powered charging tables seemingly appeared throughout campus, providing students with new ways to engage outside. 

EnerFusion is a company that provides solar-powered charging stations, picnic tables, and umbrellas. They allow people to enjoy the outdoors while simultaneously charging their electronic devices using energy from the sun. The power supply is large enough that you can even use these stations at night.

Dr. Julie Estis, the COVID-19 Response Coordinator, worked with Julie Schwindt, Associate Vice President for Finance, on the project. 

“We started looking at solar tables early in the academic year as part of COVID response efforts,” said Estis. “Getting people outdoors was an important mitigation strategy.”

The goal of the COVID-19 Response team was to get students connected online and outside to continue learning effectively. The response team helped coordinate the project, but it was a collaborative effort between multiple fields. Schwindt had a role in funding, and the government provided the funds specifically for COVID-19 mitigation strategies. 

“We recognize the importance of students having opportunities to connect and engage at less risk,” said Estis. “We want students to spend time studying together and connect to meetings.”

The actual products have an interesting design and are environmentally friendly, but for some, the execution and placement diminish their purpose. Radiologic sciences major Keeleigh Stockstill details some issues she has with the locations of the tables. She enjoys sitting outside, but still prefers the tables near Marx Library. 

“[Marx is] a more peaceful setting rather than being in the center of everything,” said Stockstill. “It’s less stressful. [The picnic tables] have too much foot traffic. There’s one by my dorm and one close to the Rec Center. There are always people walking. I like them but I get distracted, so I come here.”

She has seen students sit at the tables near the Humanities and Chemistry buildings. 

“People will sit there but won’t actually use them,” said Stockstill. “They’re not really using them to the fullest extent.”

Anthropology major Bailee Thomas used the tables a few times over the summer and has friends who consistently used them when they lived in the dorms. Even though she likes the concept of solar-powered stations, she feels similarly to Stockstill about the students not using all of the tables’ features. She also enjoys the tables at the library.

“I like how the chairs [at the library] move,” said Thomas. “With the solar-powered tables, you’re in a fixed spot. I’ve never seen anyone use them to actually charge things. [The money] spent could’ve been utilized somewhere else.”

Brandon Pham is a biomedical sciences major who sees students use the tables near Humanities and Mathematical Sciences and Physics buildings. He does not understand the purpose of the tables. 

“All the tables I’ve seen are kind of in awkward spots, and I’m more used to where I sit,” said Pham. “Also I don’t see any need for it, and if I do, I just go to Marx and the Student Center. I think their placements could’ve been better. They are in arbitrary places and seem to be right outside some random building.”

South student Victoria Tait only recently started using the tables because she enjoys the canopy and shading they provide. She does not use them to charge her devices, however.

“I like the concept but never found myself needing them,” said Tait. “But they are convenient.”

Whether students use them to charge their devices or sit in the shade with their friends, these special picnic tables are on their way to bringing the campus community closer together.