Texas A&M University engineering students recently joined students from the University of Technology in Mandalay, Myanmar to design a machine to produce electricity for impoverished countries. The two teams first faced off against one another at A&M’s Invent the Planet competition, where students are invited to showcase inventions designed to address global problems. However, after realizing their designs suited one another, the two teams decided to work together to finalize a prototype. Given their own background as students, the group was particularly eager to create a small and simple device that would allow children to study at night. The team went on to win first place for their project at the VentureWell Open2018 OPEN Minds Showcase — an exhibition of students developing science-and technology-based inventions, held in Austin at the end of March.
The project was particularly significant for the students from Myanmar, a country where 55% of the population does not have access to electricity. Their trip to Texas was funded by A&M University, marking the first time the students had left Myanmar. After the competition, the visitors were able to experience some unique US culture in their tour of Texas. All of the students, from Myanmar and the United States alike, noted how thankful they were for the chance to exchange ideas.
Texas has become increasingly popular for visitors from ASEAN countries. Almost 5,800 ASEAN students were enrolled in Texas universities for the 2015-2016 school year, contributing $135 million to the local economy. In 2015, Texas was home to 15,300 Burmese and Burmese-Americans, while Texas leads the country in refugee resettlements, the majority of whom arrive from Myanmar. Along with student exchanges, these demographic changes are expanding the diversity of cities across Texas.
The students’ project also builds on energy initiatives begun by the United Sates. A US investment group partnered with the Burmese government to provide more energy for the country through a 2014 solar energy project in Mandalay. In 2012, Myanmar also joined the Lower Mekong Initiative, a coalition formed between the United States and several ASEAN countries, which emphasizes sustainable regional development.
Savannah Shih is a research intern at the East-West Center and a graduate student of Asian Studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.