CIO Staffer Lends Expertise to Central American Project

Article by Sally Hritz
Originally published in a different format

Gabe Moulton and OSU engineering students set up MDL lab computers.

A chance meeting on campus with an engineering program manager led Gabe Moulton, technology engineer for the Office of the Chief Information Officer, to Central America. The two men met at the Digital Union Showcase, where Moulton was on hand to explain the “Connecting Rural Ohio” project. John Merrill, the director of Ohio State’s First-Year Engineering Program, knew that what he heard would be helpful to a group of his students exploring a similar project in Honduras.

Moulton eventually became involved in the project and this past spring break found himself on a plane headed for the Central American country with eleven engineering students. Soon he was advising them on the design of a computer network for the Montana de Luz orphanage and installing screening to keep out bugs and snakes. He also accompanied the students to three meetings to choose an Internet service provider and establish local connectivity.

A building in the Montana de Luz compound.

The Honduran effort is just one of the many hands-on projects in courses open to students in the First-Year Engineering program. The engineering students journeyed to Honduras for service learning, taking along 10 donated computers. They were fulfilling one of the monthly “mission trips” hosted by Montana de Luz (MDL), a nonprofit organization in the mountains of Honduras near the capital of Tegucigalpa that welcomes various assistance groups working on experiential team projects. MDL rescues orphaned children with HIV/AIDS, treats their medical problems, and provides a family environment. MDL’s board of directors is located in Columbus.

For Internet service, the students selected Zamorano University, “a top-ranked Central American school near MDL,” says Moulton. “Zamorano has a fiber optic network connection to the U.S., lots of bandwidth, and it already filters for adult content, so the network to MDL will be filtered as well.” The university’s head of Information Technology offered to donate $6,000 worth of wireless equipment and install a wireless point-to-point link between MDL and Zamorano capable of 2 mbps that would support cable telephone and videoconferencing. A memorandum of understanding with Zamorano is now underway to complete the deal.

Engineering students and advisers onsite.

Alan Escovitz, director of external affairs for the Office of the Chief Information Officer, says the project is a good example of the academic outreach and international programming that the CIO’s Office wants to support. “The Honduran project has given us an opportunity to work closely with the college of engineering and their student organization in outreach efforts,” he says. “We’re supporting their mission and participating with consultative technology services and staff.”

Moulton says he would like to return to Honduras if he is needed for this project, but another area has also piqued his interest. “Elvin Beach, another engineering adviser on the trip, is working on a solar energy project that I would like to be involved in,” he says. “MDL spends $1,000 on electricity every month, but they get so much sun in Central America, why not look into solar energy? Energy is needed for all of these efforts, and OSU is building relationships in this area.”

The engineering students have been going to Honduras since 2005 working on technology improvements. In 2007, they documented their activities in a brief video available on Ohio State’s YouTube site.

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