Office of Research & Economic Development
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Georgia Southern Alumnus spearheads a solar farm initiative

Randy Smith

Randy Smith

Working with solar energy has been a dream for alumnus Randy Smith (‘88) since a young age, and soon he’ll be able to make that dream a reality with the help of two innovative companies, Inman Solar and Georgia Power Company.

Smith, a science and math teacher at Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, has begun development of a new five-acre solar farm on Darlington’s campus.

“My colleague, Mike Hudson, and I received a $25,000 grant to renovate our school greenhouse and develop a horticultural program at Darlington School,” said Smith. “My desire was to incorporate a couple of solar panels on the greenhouse.”

With this idea in mind, Smith and his co-worker attended an energy conference in Atlanta sponsored by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). There, they connected with Inman Solar.

“At the conference, we were able to connect with a few solar development companies and discuss possibilities,” Smith said. “After talking with Inman Solar, Brion Fitzpatrick, project developer, came to our campus for a site visit to evaluate our potential. The rest is history.”

Inman Solar and Smith worked together to submit an application to Georgia Power’s popular Advanced Solar Initiative program, and Georgia Power selected their project through a lottery process and awarded them a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

This project proposal was presented to school administration as not only an educational opportunity for students in the classroom, but a way to connect with the students through a hands-on approach to the valuable life skills they are taught at Darlington.

Darlington head of school, Brent Bell, supported Smith in this endeavor. The project was turned over to a Board of Trustees for a vote, and it passed and was met with much praise.

From there, it went through the Rome-Floyd County Planning Commission and the Rome City Commission. The project passed again with flying colors.

Smith recounted, “This process required a lot of faith, patience and perseverance. Once one hurdle was crossed, a new hurdle would present itself. We had to keep moving forward when an obstacle or challenge presented itself.”

Inman Solar signed a 25-year lease on the parcel of land that brings nearly $900,000 in capital investment to the school property. All of this was accomplished at no cost to the school. Inman will sell all the energy and all the environmental attributes* back to Georgia Power while paying Darlington for the land they use.

The Darlington solar farm not only helps the school and community, but is good for character education. It will educate students, help them become better global citizens and encourage them to consider implementing alternative energy possibilities in the future, Smith said. Students and faculty will have the chance to get an in-depth look at how solar power works through access to the project’s internet production monitor, which will serve as a living laboratory.

Thanks to Smith’s hard work, this solar farm will reduce more than 800 tons of carbon dioxide per year. That is the same as powering up more than 200 residential properties in the area for an entire year.

These numbers can only grow as Smith looks toward expansion in the future.

“I am currently seeking other opportunities to incorporate alternative energy initiatives on campus,” Smith said. “We are in the information gathering phase to consider other solar, wind and other sources of revenue generation through creative use of land holdings. I am very excited about the potential.”

Construction, which begins on August 22, will take about six to eight weeks to complete before energy can be fed into the grid.

“It is pretty amazing to think that our $50 conference fee turned into one of the largest green energy initiatives for an independent school in Georgia,” concluded Smith.


* Note: Under the PPA, the energy produced by this facility is sold to Georgia Power, who retains ownership of all RECs, environmental attributes, capacity and electrical products produced from the facility.

An artist’s rendering of what the completed solar farm at Darlington School will look like.

An artist’s rendering of what the completed solar farm at Darlington School will look like.


This article was originally posted on August 10, 2016 and can be found here.

Dr. Xuchun Ren Awarded NSF Research Grant

RenXuchun-93x100Dr. Xuchun Ren, an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department, has been awarded a three-year grant of $261,067 by the National Science Foundation for his project entitled “Novel Decomposition Methods for Reliability-Based Topology Optimization”. The NSF grant is part of the Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) program. The mission of the CMMI program is to “fund fundamental research and education in support of the Foundation’s strategic goals directed at advances in the disciplines of civil, mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering, and materials design”. This award supports fundamental research on topology optimization of complex engineering structures in the presence of uncertainty. Specifically, it will develop novel methods to determine the ideal material distribution of complex engineering systems with low probabilities of failure corresponding to some critical failure mechanisms.


This article was originally posted on August 9, 2016 and can be found here.

Latest Survey Results for Georgia Business Climate Survey Suggests Georgia Business Leaders are Optimistic about Future of Georgia

BIG city campusBusiness Innovation Group (BIG) and Georgia CEO have partnered together to establish a new Georgia Business Climate Survey. The survey will serve as a tool for other people to view how our state is moving forward economically. Distributed on a quarterly-basis, the survey covers several different types of questions regarding the industry specifically, the economy as a whole, the businesses’ propensity to hire new staff and investments in capital.

This quarter’s survey analysis suggests that survey participants are cautiously optimistic about the future of Georgia’s economy. When asked directly about their outlook on Georgia business conditions over the next three months, 42 percent of participants thought conditions would be better in three months, while 46 percent thought business conditions would be the same.

When asked about their outlook on the next three months, business leaders were the most optimistic about business volume and sales and the most anxious about capital access, profitability and labor availability.

Right now, 75 percent of survey participants do not think they will do more business out-of-state than what they are currently doing. Overall, only 21 percent are planning on expanding their out-of-state business activities in the next three months.

Thirty-two percent of survey participants work for companies that employ less than nine people, while 24 percent of participants work for companies that employ over 250 people

“Survey participants are cautiously optimistic about the current and future state of the economy,” stated Ben McKay, research specialist for the Georgia Southern Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development (BBRED). “This is a night and day difference when these findings are compared to similitude research conducted by BBRED shortly after the crash of 2008.”BiG-Logo-Draft-Set5-MovedGear2-SMALL-250x250

The sampling technique used for this study was a convenience sample of subscribers to one of the nine Georgia CEO daily newsletters. The locations served by this publication include Albany, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Middle Georgia, Newnan, Savannah and Valdosta. Participants were contacted via email and responded using a provided link to an online questionnaire. The survey was open for two weeks and collected 368 valid responses. Due to the sampling technique used, it is unclear what the response rate to this survey is and the results are not representative of the views of the entire population of Georgia. The results do reflect the views of many readers of Georgia CEO.


This article was originally posted on August 19, 2016 and can be found here.

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) 2016


PLTW is a national, non-profit organization promoting STEM education in K-12 classrooms ( through teacher training and course module development. Once trained, the school teachers are able to offer the PLTW programs and modules to students at their own schools.

Currently, about 8,500 schools representing all 50 states have adopted PLTW programs and modules, which introduce pre-college students to concepts of engineering and other STEM fields. PLTW will influence more than one million students this year alone. PLTW partners with institutions of higher education in each state – these affiliate colleges and universities train the teachers who will implement the course materials and modules in their elementary and secondary classes. There are currently 61 affiliate members across the nation; Georgia Southern is the affiliate institution in Georgia.

Elementary and secondary school teachers from rural counties throughout Georgia and the region participate in PLTW training thanks to Governor Nathan Deal’s initiative in joining PLTW. Due to the growth of the project, Georgia Southern was able to provide PLTW training at two different locations this year: one in the Atlanta area (Fayetteville) and the other on Georgia Southern’s Statesboro campus. The intensive two-week training sessions ran back-to-back, starting June 6 in Atlanta and ending July 1 in Statesboro, with nearly 100 elementary and secondary school teachers participating in eight different training classes.  While most of the participants hail from Georgia, some came from neighboring states and even further afield, including Indiana, Colorado, Wyoming and California. Visitors to the classes included administrators from the participants’ schools, PLTW officials, and representatives from regional industry and from Governor Deal’s office.

Georgia’s PLTW director, Aniruddha Mitra, professor of Mechanical Engineering, thanked the Georgia Southern community for their support in organizing and hosting the event. He added, “Project Lead The Way training classes conducted by Georgia Southern have experienced unprecedented growth over the past four years in terms of number of attendees – from fewer than ten, to 70 last year, to over 100 this year.  This will significantly enhance STEM education, and Georgia Southern’s impact, throughout the region. I hope that as a result of these PLTW programs, many more students will consider careers in STEM fields, and will decide to launch those careers with degrees from Georgia Southern.”


This article was origianlly posted on July 5, 2016 and can be found here.

Georgia Southern brings renewable energy research to schools in high-need rural Georgia

Georgia Southern engineering professors have received more than $524,000 from the National Science Foundation. The grant will enable them to bring cutting-edge renewable energy research into the high school and tech school classrooms of high-need rural areas in Georgia.

Valentin Soloiu

Valentin Soloiu, Ph.D.

Valentin Soloiu, Ph.D., Allen E. Paulson Distinguished Chair of Renewable Energy and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Rocio Alba-Flores, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, received $524,706 to create a Research for Teachers in Engineering and Computer Science site, which will develop and train high school and tech school STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teachers in renewable energy research at the University.

This new three-year initiative, called Engaging Educators in Renewable Energy (ENERGY), will expand teacher and student knowledge in STEM fields, and help teachers create hands-on curriculum for their students.

“It’s not just bringing teachers and teaching them what we know,” said Alba-Flores. “It’s not just knowledge. It’s getting more into the research we’re doing now. What we’re going to teach them and show them is state-of-the-art research that we are doing.”

Ten teachers from surrounding counties will visit Georgia Southern and work with professors, industry advisors, graduate and undergraduate students in one of five different areas of renewable energy research. The next semester, University researchers will visit the high schools and tech schools to help the area teachers develop hands-on curriculum for their classrooms. After the year-long partnership is complete, each teacher will have renewable energy lesson plans in place to continue teaching and developing through his or her career.

Rocio Alba-Flores, Ph.D.

Rocio Alba-Flores, Ph.D.

“We will select teachers who are really motivated to learn and transmit to the high school students — not just one year, but they will continue doing that,” said Soloiu. “They will continue learning about energy in the topic they will select.”

While the program effects community educational outreach, Soloiu says the grant award was based heavily on the high-quality renewable energy research included in the program.

This research includes biologically inspired fin research, which will be used to extract waste thermal energy from exhaust gases; developing vertical axis wind turbines; biologically inspired flow networks, which will be used to transport thermal energy obtained from the sun to homes for domestic water heating applications; pico-grid (smart house) research, which seeks to minimize the wasted power in smart homes and explore renewable power generation and storage through electric vehicles; and solar-tracking systems research, which will help participants engage in deductive reasoning processes.

The grant development process has been a three-year intensive endeavor, but Soloiu says it is a great recognition of all the hard work and value he and his team have brought to the project.

“We are proud to be Georgia Southern professors,” he said. “We love this place. We want to bring value. We work incessantly to bring value — to bring value to the university, to bring value to the students, to bring value to the community.”


This article was originally posted on August 15, 2016 and can be found here.

Office of Vice President for Research and Economic Development • P.O. Box 8140, Statesboro, GA 30458 • (912) 478-8641 •