Shine On: UConn Dedicates Solar-Powered STEAM Tree


UConn held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday afternoon for a solar-powered STEAM tree that will allow community members to charge their personal devices while enjoying time at the Student Union Mall.

The “tree” consists of a metal base that supports plates to look like a real tree. The solar power generated by the panels is stored in batteries, allowing users to charge devices such as phones and laptops. The technology is widespread in Europe and Asia, with a growing number of solar trees in the United States.

PJ Leppones ’23 (ENG) cuts the ribbon during the STEAM Tree dedication ceremony at the Student Union Mall on April 19, 2023. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The UConn project is known as the “STEAM” tree because it combines the skills of academics in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“This is about more than just solar, batteries and clean energy – it’s really about the mindfulness that comes from being together in nature,” said UConn President Radenka Maric. “It’s about feeling connected and celebrating our creativity and team spirit. I look forward to more initiatives like this at UConn that we will bring to the community.”

The dedication was part of UConn’s Earth Day Spring Fling, which included a series of sustained events – most at the Fairfield Way. UConn Dining Services offered a Zero Waste BBQ, while other activities included an environmental art exhibition, outdoor yoga and annual class tree planting.

The concept for a STEAM tree at UConn began with a meeting Jasna Jaknovic, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, had with the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Education at the School of Engineering, Leslie Shor.

“Leslie asked me what my vision for the future of UConn was and I talked about clean energy,” Jaknovic said. “She also asked me about my dream for UConn and I told her about a solar tree and she encouraged me to apply for a STEAM grant, we received it and here we are today.”

The STEAM Innovation Grant at UConn is administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the School of Fine Arts to encourage innovative collaborations between the arts and STEM disciplines.

Funding for the STEAM tree also came from the Krenicki Arts and Engineering Institute at UConn, and the solar panels and batteries were donated by Renogy Solar.

Emily Rabinowitz '24 (ENG) charges her iPad connected to the STEAM Tree in the Student Union MallEmily Rabinowitz ’24 (ENG) charges her iPad connected to the STEAM Tree at Student Union Mall on April 19, 2023. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

“One of the things that drew me to coming to UConn as a creative researcher and educator was the opportunity to work with people on a project like this in a creative and interdisciplinary way,” said Chris Sancomb, assistant professor of the industrial design program in the School of Fine Arts. “One of my goals for this project was to convey how art and design can go beyond embellishment to contribute to research. Design as a Practice is designed to facilitate collaboration and implementation through creative problem solving, innovation, technology and engineering. Design is essential to this type of work and can help create partnerships like ours that can help envision an alternative sustainable future.”

In addition to Jaknovic and Sancomb, other faculty members were Associate Professor of Engineering Sung-Yeul Park, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Cynthia Jones, and Professor of Urban and Community Studies Stacy Maddern.

A number of UConn students and graduates were involved in the project along with high school students.