WCU’s Electron Garden on the Green becoming popular hangout for students

Students are enjoying their new space to hang a hammock and relax.

Students are enjoying their new space to hang a hammock and relax.

When Western Carolina University alumnus Chase Weddle began working two years ago with two classmates on their Department of Engineering and Technology senior capstone project, a solar power generating facility and hammock “hanging lounge,” he figured it would just be a research project that would eventually be put in a file and maybe used in the future.

Now, Weddle, who graduated last May, takes pride in being the only student to see the idea become reality when an internship with WCU’s Office of Sustainability and Energy Management allowed him to be the project manager. Ross Heffley and Robert Bianculli began the project with Weddle but graduated before its completion.

“It’s still kind of hard to see it in perspective until I actually go to campus and see it in person,” Weddle said. “That’s when I really think back on it and I’m really surprised. Not a lot of people get to see a project like that from start to finish, so it was kind of cool.”

The Electron Garden on the Green, located in the green space across Memorial Drive from Walker Residence Hall near Cullowhee Creek, is a 10-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that supplies power to WCU’s grid, helping to reduce the university’s expenditures for electricity and lower the amount of carbon dioxide released by WCU’s non-renewable energy sources. It is the first use of solar energy for generating electricity on campus.

During summer orientation, freshmen and transfer students were told of the “EGG” and its ability to not only house hammocks, but also provide a place to plug in laptops, cell phones and other electronic items. The Office of Sustainability and Energy Management also promoted it with announcements during presentations.

So far, it’s been a hit with students. Sophomore Hailey Byers, a natural resources management major from Denver, decided to try out the EGG after seeing her friends make use of the space.

“I really like it because it has solar panels on it,” she said. “I think that was a really cool idea. It gives students a place to go and relax that’s a given area, instead of having to go and venture out and try and find a place.”

“I love it,” said American history graduate student Kyle Dreher after using it for the first time. “It’s nice. It offers some good shade, nice place to study, read and hang out.”

But the most enduring feature is the ports to plug in, students say.

“It gives students a different way to come out here and do homework and be outside and not have to worry about their laptops or any kind of technology dying,” said Kelsea Hollowell, a sophomore recreational therapy major from Hickory.

Lauren Bishop, WCU’s director of sustainability and energy management, said an interpretive sign is currently being made for the area that will provide information on what the EGG is, what it does, who designed it and who funded it. It should be installed in the coming weeks, Bishop said. She hopes the sign will help increase student usage.

The EGG, which can house about 10 hammocks, was the first project to be funded through a student sustainability fee that was approved by WCU’s Board of Trustees and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to support projects related to environmental sustainability through the university’s Sustainability Energy Initiative. Full-time students at WCU pay $5 per semester.

Weddle said he hopes the EGG will inspire other WCU students to come up with ideas for the SEI to fund.

“I want to be able to show students that they can do something like that, too,” he said. “Hopefully, they can see (the EGG) and maybe come up with something of their own.”

The next round of SEI-funded projects include an electric vehicle charging station that will be constructed in the new metered lot outside of the Center for Career Development in Reid Gymnasium, Bishop said. It will be able to charge three vehicles at a time.

Bishop’s office also is in the process of purchasing mini-recycling totes for every first-year student.