Mark Pace/Chattanooga Times Free Press — Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy graduate Zainab Muhammad works with STEM teacher Chris Barnett to finish a solar powered pump irrigation system for a garden at Lula Lake Land Trust. Muhammad chose the task for her senior project and wanted to fully complete the installation before leaving for college.

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CGLA grad builds agricultural system for Lula Lake Land Trust

As recent high school graduates turned their focus toward life's next chapter, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy graduate Zainab Muhammad had one more project she wanted to finish before heading to college.

Earlier in the year, Muhammad and her classmates were assigned to solve a general world problem for their senior projects. And she had just the idea for hers.

The self-described jokester, who plans to attend Berea College in Kentucky, had been a volunteer at Lula Lake Land Trust and noticed a problem. The land trust was watering its pollinator garden by filling a 50-gallon drum from nearby Rock Creek and moving it to the garden for watering. The process was labor intensive, and to Muhammad, unnecessary.

"They needed a better way to water their garden," Muhammad said.

She thought she could find another solution, so she did.

She spent the year building a solar-powered pump irrigation system that pulls water from Rock Creek, transports it to the garden and automatically detects proper water levels. Once the garden is properly watered, or when it rains, the system stops watering and waits until more water is needed.

The system is hands-free and automates the process while using a drip irrigation system to minimize water waste.

The system starts with a submersible sump pump that sits in Rock Creek. It pulls water through a tube, up the bank and about 25 yards to the garden. A solar-powered box filled with devices Muhammad built reads water levels and dictates when to water the garden.

Muhammad utilized some of the skills she learned in a coding class taught by CGLA STEM teacher Chris Barnett and she used her free time to learn more about how to build the system.

"She's following through to set it up," CGLA STEM teacher Chris Barnett said. " When she finds a problem, she asks 'How can I do this?' So I'll lead her on that path."

Barnett described Muhammad as a "fantastic student" who is engaged and constantly pushes the class conversation forward.

"And don't forget funny," said Muhammad, who wants to major in computer science and agriculture natural resources. "I'm always making the best jokes."

For Barnett, it was a perfect lesson for his current students. He is teaching summer classes and his students were learning about some of the math Muhammad used to build the system. He brought the students to Lula Lake Land Trust on Thursday morning as Muhammad finished the system and showed the students how the math could be used to solve real world problems.

"She's really smart and determined. She's probably one of the most hard working people I know," student Gissella Defriese said. "Oh, yeah, and she's really funny."

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.