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|Martin Barillas||May 30th 2016|
Kettering University has long been known as an adjunct of the automobile and other manufacturing industries. And it has faculty members who are looking squarely into the future and how to put Kettering on the best footing for the way forward. Among them are Dr. Matthew Sanders of the Industrial Engineering department, who is fully engaged in advancing Kettering’s Community Vitality portion of Pillars of Success commitments.
According to a press release, Sanders has been nominated for this year’s Faculty Distinguished Citizenship Award at Kettering in recognition of his work at the university and the surrounding community of Flint. Besides his involvement in many projects involving innovative industrial processes and computer applications, over the last few years, his engagement with community projects has served students, as well as the people of the city of Flint and Genesee County.
Sanders has been involved in projects related to aquaponics that brought together students and faculty from various disciplines to produce sustainable sources of fresh food over the last two years. These include healthy vegetables and fish. A grant of $25,000 from the Ford College Community Challenge give the scheme a kick-start and the funds needed to provide engineering plans for an aquaponics operation in a building provided by a local nonprofit. Fifty students from Kettering were involved in the project that also brought together high school students for construction training.
“This was a community partnership,” said Professor Sanders recently. “Our students wrote a plan for how to build the facility. That included a cost analysis, feasibility studies, suggested crops and fish that would thrive in the facility and have worked on technical aspects.” Besides the benefit to students who got hands-on experience in design, construction, and management, the aquaponics project made a start at addressing the “food deserts” in Flint. Food deserts are neighborhoods were sources of fresh vegetables, for instance, are inadequate.
“This isn’t just a simple aquaponics project,” Sanders said. “We want to take it to the next level. Anyone can build a small aquaponics environment. But as Kettering students and faculty, we can develop further technology. We want to be able to develop an app, to be able to control these environments from a distance and take the next step in scaling up these types of facilities.” The computer app would allow remote monitoring of essential elements of the aquaponics operation, including pH levels, water circulation, and the condition of fish and plants.
Aquaponics lab at Kettering
In Kettering’s Interdisciplinary Senior Design course under Sanders’ guidance, students combined aquaculture methods to raise saleable fish with hydroponics to raise plants as well. Fish waste is channeled to nurture the plants in the system devised by Sanders and implemented by students. The resulting aquaponics system is producing quality fish and vegetables free of herbicides and pesticides at a rate higher than similar systems. The goal is to create a model for other communities and businesses to follow while seeking healthy alternative food production.
Yet another project in which Sanders has been engaged is Harvesting the Earth. Initiated by the husband-wife team of Jackie and Dora King, Harvesting the Earth had already brought together local disadvantaged teens and young people to complement martial arts training with organic urban farming and community service. With two successive grants from the Ford Community Fund totaling $100,000, Sanders designed and implemented with his students a modernization project that took the Harvesting the Earth organic farm to the next level with solar power, a well, and a rainwater collection system. In an interview, King said that it is ironic that it has been Ford Motors that has been committed to revitalizing Flint, which is where General Motors was founded.
Sanders has served as a mentor in the Harvesting the Earth project of Kettering University to increase production and limit the Kings' dependence on water and energy.
Having worked on this other community and business projects for nearly thirty years, Sanders said of Harvesting the Earth project, “Ford and Kettering have been innovators and contributors to community development and better outcomes for people all over the world. I’m glad to be a part of it.”