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Former Navy nuclear engineer puts skills to use for community good

Richard Anderson (B.S. mechanical engineering '14) helped design the "EZ Heat" solar furnace.

May 28, 2014

Anderson wants to continue to give back to the community through his engineering work.
Anderson wants to continue to give back to the community through his engineering work.

By Liz DeLuna

Experience in submarine nuclear engineering doesn’t necessarily translate into an obvious degree path at most institutions, but at MSU Denver, Richard Anderson figured out how to make waves in the classroom and the community.

Anderson, 45, hadn’t attended school since his initial enlistment in the U.S. Navy. With his wife’s encouragement, he returned to earn his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at MSU Denver.

As a non-traditional student Anderson sought opportunities to combine his desire for design and manufacturing with his construction experience as owner of Entryway Improvements, a door and window installation company.

This experience, combined with his engineering skills, made him the perfect candidate to help design the “EZ Heat” solar furnace, a collaborative initiative between Revision International and MSU Denver’s Engineering Technology Department, that offers low-cost heating alternatives to low-income families.

“Our task was to design a solar furnace that could heat a house for around $50,” explained Anderson about his summer 2013 elective project. “It takes 144 cans to create one furnace in approximately 45 minutes. It’s very basic. You don’t need an engineering degree to build one of these.”

“EZ Heat,” named by the Westwood Denver community where the solar furnaces have already been installed in some homes, is saving families an average of $25 per month in heating expenses.

That’s a significant savings for families like the Ochoas, who have already felt a difference in their home. The extra heat helps ease joint pain for Joel Ochoa, who is recovering from muscular atrophy brought on by an injury, and it also helps his wife who suffers from osteoporosis. The couple is financially supported by their son and daughter who can now put money towards medical expenses and other household needs. The Ochoas share their home with their daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

The moment the solar furnace was installed in the Ochoa’s home, Anderson realized the impact of his work.

"There was a little boy who was going to be sleeping there. He was [saying], 'I'm going to be so warm tonight,'" Anderson said. “I can’t imagine having a kid worried about needing to be warm at night. That was the defining moment for me.”

The EZ Heat solar furnace is already having a global impact as MSU Denver Assistant Professor Aaron Brown continues to present the research at national and international conferences, including those held by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the United States Institute of Peace and the Michigan Institute of Technology.

“I got much more than a degree out of it,” said Anderson of his time at MSU Denver. He has already made improvements to the EZ Heat project that will save families even more money.

Having graduated earlier this month with Magna Cum Laude honors, Anderson hopes to secure a position that will allow him to solve engineering challenges and continue to provide hands-on support for the community at large.

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