Harsh Patel, Eshaan Sharma and Ankit Mithbavkar
Harsh Patel, Eshaan Sharma and Ankit Mithbavkar

A talented trio from McNair Academic High School in Jersey City have achieved recognition as the green giants of “sustainable community garden irrigation.”

Harsh Patel, Eshaan Sharma and Ankit Mithbavkar, all seniors at McNair, captured first place in the 2021 Green Ambassador Program sponsored by Solar Landscape and Sustainable Jersey City.

Solar Landscape is a leading New Jersey designer and operator of solar energy technology for the commercial, municipal, and nonprofit marketplace.

Sustainable Jersey City is a nonprofit network of individuals, government, and charitable organizations that sponsor various green initiatives to make Jersey City more ecologically sustainable. Their projects include developing rain gardens and community composting sites, inventorying the city’s trees, and conducting research on the many effects of the city’s diminishing tree canopy.

The two groups combined to award $20,000 in scholarships to 23 New Jersey high school students for developing compelling clean energy projects.

Students attended five online webinars hosted by Solar Landscape, then submitted videos outlining a concept for making an existing product more sustainable or for strengthening the sustainability efforts of a community.

McNair Irrigation Project

“We actually started this project in our freshman year,” said Sharma, “because of our mutual interest in how urban irrigation systems are evolving.” Sharma is also an “ambassador” for Inspirit AI, a program sponsored by Stanford and MIT graduate students to teach middle and high school students artificial intelligence.

In a recorded presentation to the judges, the McNair representatives, all members of the Science Research Club at the school, outlined their approach to developing a system for irrigating a four-quadrant, 10-foot-by-10-foot plot of land.

Their working model consisted of eight interconnected pipes, each section measuring 5 feet in length, linked by four elbow joints and an 800-gallon submersible pump – all self-contained with no moving parts. Each pipe features holes to facilitate water flow and minimize water waste.

According to the students, their apparatus could support up to four different plant species and be assembled in five hours for just $209.

Initially, the students said, they’ll pitch their irrigation proposal to two middle schools in Ward F (Frank R. Conwell M.S. 4 and Academy 1 M.S.) and to several of the city’s community gardens (Ogden’s End in the Heights, Waldo Avenue gardens in Journal Square, and Brunswick Street gardens Downtown.

If they can create sustainable irrigation systems there, they would like to build larger-scale models for adoption by local municipal parks.

That sits very well with Debra Italiano, founder and president of Sustainable Jersey City. Italiano lauded the winners for “the simplicity and thoroughness” of their irrigation system along with their “clear implementation plan and low-cost budget.”

Sharma and Mithbavkar plan to study computer science and machine learning after graduation. Patel plans to become a civil engineer.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...