Internationally recognized muralist Joe Pagac has two great loves: art and natural parks.

They came together in a mural that guides visitors to a kiosk where they can purchase tickets to electric shuttles providing a quiet, emission-free experience in Sabino Canyon.

University of Arizona engineering students designed a solar-powered kiosk for visitors to purchase tickets to the Canyon Crawler, the electric shuttle that TEP helped launch in 2019. TEP crews transported and delivered the shed, which has solar panels and batteries, to the recreation area’s overflow parking lot, which is open October to April.

But the plain shed didn’t do justice to the beauty of the surrounding desert landscape.

With appropriate color and design determined in coordination with the shuttle owner, Regional Partnering Center, and the U.S. Forest Service, the final piece marries the images of lush desert and vibrant sunsets.

It helps serve as a wayfinder for visitors. But for Pagac, who completed the piece after he finished hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, it was an honor to paint in such a beloved space. “I grew up in the Foothills and went to schools that are practically across the street, so it was cool to be up there with those memories. I also just appreciated being able to support the parks system, which gives us all an opportunity to hike and explore.”

UArizona engineering seniors designed the solar energy system to power the kiosk as one of the College of Engineering’s Interdisciplinary Capstone projects in 2020.

This project addressed a need for a ticket booth in a remote parking lot without electric service.

“This unique and self-sustaining ticketing booth is not only beautiful but also helps serve visitors while meeting the requirements of the Forest Service permit held by the shuttle operator,” said Steven Eddy, TEP’s Director of Public Affairs, who oversaw our involvement with the shuttle launch.

Since 2014, TEP has partnered with the UArizona to help seniors complete their capstone projects, which can be either practical or theoretical.

Other local companies and businesses support the projects as a way to help with research and development and tap local talent, said Ana Bustamante, Senior Director of Transmission & Distribution Engineering.

Because the parking lot is in an environmentally sensitive area, the goal was to keep interruption to a minimum and generate renewable energy. So TEP and the Pima Association of Governments (PAG), which oversees the nonprofit group that operates the shuttle, handed over the concept to the UArizona students.

PAG donated a metal container, while TEP supplied solar panels. TEP’s Outside Services team helped move the container to our campus on East Irvington Road, where students could work on the project, called the Mobile Utility Connection, during the 2019-20 school year.

Colter Ogden, who was hired as a Transmission Interconnection Engineer after leading the project as a student, said he was immediately excited about the project because he joined the UArizona engineering program with hopes of working in renewable energy.

“A lot of what we do in engineering school is going to be theoretical,” Ogden said. “The chance to take the knowledge that you work four years on and put it into practice is super-rewarding.”

Two other team members also have since been hired by TEP: Ilse Morales Duarte as a Supply Side Planner and Spencer Gross as an Operations Planning Engineer.

“The whole company really just gets behind these student projects,” Bustamante said. “I want to thank all the people who helped this team along the way. This is just the kind of teamwork and innovation that lines up with our vision as a company.”

The project won awards during a May 2020 online ceremony honoring the UArizona projects, including placing first for “Innovation in Energy Production, Supply or Use” and the Frank Broyles Engineering Ethics Award.

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