Since 2015, the DeBoer Lab group has worked to expand engineering capacity to young, creative Kenyan students at the Tumaini Innovation Center, an alternative residential school for former street youth. Students learn foundational engineering skills to solve problems in their own community. Our courses use open source materials, flipped classrooms, teamwork, a novel e-learning platform, hands-on activities, low-cost, highly relevant technologies, and continuous engineering education research. This year, students designed and installed a solar PV system to power their classrooms and dormitory (installing panels in frames). This meant planning circuitry, purchasing materials, installation, troubleshooting, and monitoring. The students have already performed maintenance for domestic solar PV systems in the community. As a result, Tumaini students developed an interest in solar PV installation and maintenance as a business opportunity serving local clients. Other next steps include learning microelectronics through Arduinos and related coding skills to create monitoring and controls for the energy systems. In addition to working with the students, a community of practice has been formed in collaboration with the instructors.

Study Abroad

Engineering companies are increasingly calling for employees who are not only technically competent but also globally aware and multi-culturally proficient. International learning experiences (particularly in Africa) have shown evidence of students’ greater understanding of civic duties and capacity to be globally competent. Since 2017, our research group has run a 6-week study abroad program for undergraduate students from the U.S. at TIC to expand their engineering design, teaching, research, and global/multicultural skills. On the study abroad, students learn to design, teach, and research engineering in the Tumaini classroom, build intercultural competence, and conduct market research. For example, for market research last year, Purdue students evaluated the business potential of Solar PV installation and maintenance for Tumaini students by interviewing potential clients and small business owners, conducting surveys, and gathering secondary data. The students also perform community outreach and visit local university labs, incubators, and engineering sites. Purdue students learn solar PV applications from the Tumaini students.

Co-related Projects

  • Engr 131 projects: Dr. DeBoer’s introductory engineering class at Purdue (ENGR 131) focuses its design project on developing educational materials for the Tumaini Innovation Center. Students at Tumaini evaluate the lesson plans, activities, and manipulatives so that ENGR 131 students can contextualize their products.

  • South Sudan: Dr. DeBoer is co-PI on a USAID buy-in to evaluate socio-emotional learning for youth in South Sudan, many of whom lived through years of conflict, crisis, and, in some cases, displacement themselves.

Research Members



Radhakrishnan, D.B., DeBoer, J., & Kimani, S. (2018), Teachers as Guides: The role of teachers in the facilitation of technology-mediated learning in an alternative education setting in western Kenya. Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Zone II Regional Conference, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Radhakrishnan, D., Capobianco, B., & DeBoer, J. (2018), But Why: Becoming reflective practitioners to preserve originality at an alternative school in western Kenya. Paper presented at 2018 Action Research Network of the Americas (ARNA) Annual Conference, San Diego, California.

Radhakrishnan, D. B., & DeBoer, J. (2016), Utilizing an Innovative Engineering Skills Curriculum and Technology to Expand Classroom Learning in Low-Resource Settings. Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27175

Radhakrishnan, D. B., & DeBoer, J. (2016), Former Street Youth Experiences in an Active, Blended, Collaborative Course in Western Kenya. Comparative and International Education Society, Atlanta, GA, March 5-9, 2016.