Malawi Project Greenhouse Charter

Tufts Engineers Without Borders is constructing a Malawian Mobile Greenhouse, which serves to teach sustainability, international culture, engineering skills, environmental awareness, and more to Tufts and

At the start of 2023, the Malawi Chapter of Tufts Engineers Without Borders had a happy issue of too many members, but not enough to do. Our project was very internationally focused with a remote implementation. With a project starting in 2017, our clean water-access project has a long history with lots of background knowledge that was hard to explain to new members in a digestible way. Because of this, there was not enough hands-on engineering in our weekly meetings. It was also hard to connect members with our Malawi project and culture.

Furthermore, we wanted to have an on campus space to connect with the greater Tufts community and show off our excitement for EWB. Aligning with the values of Engineers Without Borders, our chapter wanted to focus on a locally based, but internationally focused sustainable, environmentally friendly project.

With this project, we will be able to learn how to timeline an engineering project from start to finish, mobilize our tech groups to create something they can see, build, and take ownership for and also teach by doing the different aspects of an engineering project. Our chapter also could take methods of fabrication, design, and prototyping from the classroom into something we could work on and build in our weekly meetings. Skills such as CAD, strength simulations, laser cutting, 3D printing, community surveying, project management, and more could be applied throughout the journey of this project. All these skills learned through Project Greenhouse are the same skills needed for our Malawi Project; Showing and learning it through a smaller and local project, rather than just explaining it, was very beneficial in teaching what an Engineers Without Borders projects are all about.

  • We are already partnered with the Eliot Pearson School and have taught inital lessons to the classes of 3-5 year old students. This partnership will continue throughout Spring 2024, and our greenhouse is going to be one of the three pillars of learning for their semester. We are working with the Sustainability Committee in the Tufts Senate to plan interactive student and community events. We plan to host at least one event per semester with the local community. We have committed a portion of our project to designing and forming community events to teach STEAM activities, engineering sustainability, and other interactive activities with local elementary schools and groups.

Maintenance and Long-Term Considerations:

Who will ensure the greenhouse is maintained and kept in good condition during summers? Will there be students around to maintain?

  • After communication with the Garden Club, they’ve noted a successful summer turnout in terms of garden maintenance. Considering that most upper class students live on campus during the summer, and that many professors remain on campus, we’re not worried about maintenance during the summer. We have a technical group committed to building a maintenance plan for the entire year, including special focus on the summer months. We’ve agreed to partnerships with the Garden Club about their willingness to help maintain our greenhouse in exchange for our help in their garden.  

Have you prepared a disassembly plan? How might we ensure that it is not left in disarray after the graduation of current students? 

  • The disassembly plan is not yet made. Of course, this is especially of interest to us and our Construction technical group has committed to creating this plan and estimating its cost as they are designing the construction plan. Our goal is to make this project long-term feasible and sustainable for the long term. We will not allow club membership to sink to a level at which we cannot sustain the greenhouse. In the unlikely circumstance that this does occur, we will ensure a disassembly plan is in place. This likely involves donation to a local school, community garden, or possibly a local house or farm which can be better able to maintain the system if the club can no longer spend resources to maintain.

Have you ensured that a location is available for the greenhouse? Does this greenhouse take up important spaces used for graduation ceremonies or otherwise?

  • We are in the process of coordinating a location with Tufts University that will ensure it can remain in state for the long-term. Many spots are under consideration at present, and given the popularity of pollinator gardens, community gardens, etc. on campus, we expect we can make an agreement with one of these groups to find a location. If this is not feasible, we have considered the possibility of a trailer-based greenhouse, though far more difficult from an engineering perspective, could be more achievable in terms of location and transportation. 

Projected Project Timeline

– Inspiration after meeting with TAMU EWB and their Greenhouse
– Initial research from each group → BIG BRAINSTORM
– Met with Garden Club, Grounds, Dining, Sustainability
– Communicated with EcoReps, Pollinators
– Created initial drawings of interior and exterior, estimated dimensions and costs
– Brainstormed plants and their containers
– Learned how wire arduino and remote control
– Traveled to Malawi
– Drew new inspiration from the culture, nature
– Talked with community members about foodstuffs, crop techniques 
– Redesign after further details on dimensions, location, etc…
– Greater cultural focus on Malawi culture; teach the club, school, and local community about the Malawian community and their way of life
– Groups will finalize prototype designs for each Technical Group in the greenhouse (both in construction and in community planning)
– Building planning will start with communication with Tufts/Medford/Somerville on construction permits, building code, and community events → will meet with REIC, local farms, garden clubs for expert opinionsTest and Showcase
– December: big end of semester showcase to give a preview of what the project will be, and encourage groups to become experts on the skills they will need when building the greenhouse.
Design/Prototype/Test and Showcase
– Confirm all designs and prototypes meet the needs of the community
– Use feedback and proposals to improve / iterate designs as needed
– Work with local experts and start building! (once there is no snow on the ground)
– Present it to the Public
– Have a ribbon cutting ceremony and start official community outreach programs!
– Initialize crops, plantings, water system
– Club focus will shift back to international projects
– Local focus will still be available to maintain and grow crops in the greenhouse
– Conduct community events and open the greenhouse to the public school community
– Present to incoming first-years as the hands-on creation of real Tufts Engineering students! An amazing option to present the school’s Engineering program, something you can walk inside, interact with and even taste and smell!

Mid Semester Presentations

Community Education and OutreachWater Automation
Interior DesignPlants and SustainabilityLighting Automation

– Laser-cut mini prototype
– Floor model and testingCAD/COMSOL structural research and wind calculations
– Materials research with plan semi-finalization
Future Work
– Initial building and testing of greenhouse kit
– Design and attach greenhouse frame to trailer
– Add structural reinforcements, and test in a wind tunnel
Potential Advisors: Prof. Masoud Sanayei, Prof. Gary Leisk, Prof. Luisa Chiesa
Community Outreach and Education
– Completed laser cut interactive language dice model
– Developed and taught lessons for 3-5 year olds in Eliot Pearson schools
Future Work
– Further meetings with Eliot Pearson
– Education materials from other tech groups
– Continued construction of physical interactives
– Partnerships with Tufts Senate, Medford/Somerville community and schools
Water Automation and Catchment
– CAD, 3D printed and tested water pressure distribution cube prototype
– Coded and designed Arduino wired stepper motor switch 
– Designed and metal bended rainwater catchment gutters
Future Work
– Focus on safety factors of electrical wiring and integration into plant beds
– Attachments and piping of water catchment system to water tank and greenhouse frame
Interior Design

– Skill development of CAD, Laser Cutting, Wood work, and more
– Table and Bed model and testing
– Malawi cloth designs on planters
Future Work
– Continued design of interior layout with emphasis on stability of moving vehicle
– Increase space usability with shelving or other alternatives
– Exterior space design development
Plants and Sustainability

– Compost Cylinder Structure cardboard prototype 
– Latch and wooden frame design and construction with compost barrel
Future Work
– Finalize wooden frame design with structural support (possible wheel attachment)
– Continue plant care plan with instruction planting manuel
Potential Advisors: Groundwork Somervile, Eastie Farms
Lighting Automation
– Cloud controlled switch through IOT Cloud
– Arduino timed light5V-relay – connected extension cord to control full light
– CAD modeling + 3D printed lamps
Future Work
– Partnered with Solar Car Team for solar power
– Motion sensored lights and website integration
Potential Advisor: Steven Bell

Progress Photos

Team Building and International Education Engineering Exercises

Structure and Electrical Components of Greenhouses during Field Visit to Groundwork Somerville (left) and Eastie Farms (middle/left)

Planting and Farming Scouting: Groundwork Somerville (left) and Eastie Farms (right)

Modeling and Coding work with Construction and Lighting Automation Tech Groups

Prototyping Build Days with Interior Tech Group

Interactives with Lighting Automation and Outreach and Education Tech Groups

Eliot Pearson Lessons Day 1 and 2 with Outreach and Education Tech Group
Thank you for your time in looking into supporting Project Greenhouse!
Hope you enjoyed our project as much as we did in creating it!
With Love, 
Project Leads Max Harrington and Natasha Wan
and our wonderful team of Tech Leads:
Kai Martell, Natalie Dell’Immagine, Adda Hennessey, Naomi Arnold, Charlie McLean (top left to right)
Katie Casey, Francesca Wan, Melanie Sun, Arianna Cozza (bottom left to right)
Sophi Schneider, Natalie Long, Ben Tannenbaum, Sanya Desai (not pictured)
Anna –  Joe Golia