Student Member at Universidad de San Carlos Busy Planning 80 STEM Events in Guatemala

They include hands-on projects and a nationwide maker faire

15 August 2018

In the 18 months that Student Member Sergio Antonio Rosales Arriola has been a volunteer at his university’s student branch in Guatemala, he helped organize nearly 80 STEM events. He and other student branch members at the Universidad de San Carlos spend about six hours each week planning and hosting events to help inspire kids from various socioeconomic backgrounds to become engineers and scientists.

The effort is in part based on the IEEE Teachers In-Service Program (TISP), a professional development workshop for teachers run by IEEE volunteers designed to help them present hands-on engineering lessons in their classrooms. The branch’s workshops for teachers won first place two years in a row at the TISP regional competition, which judges lesson plans and activities.

“All of our workshops encourage teachers to develop curriculums that include hands-on, learn-by-doing activities,” Rosales says.

LESSONS LEARNED

TISP workshops include building a robotic arm and designing gadgets using household items. Many of the lesson plans are from TryEngineering.org. The website includes information about engineering careers and university programs, as well as hands-on classroom activities.

One of the most popular activities, Rosales says, is Critical Load, which teaches the principles of civil engineering. Students use milk cartons, sand, and similar readily available materials to design and construct a structure. The teacher places coins on each model to test how much weight it can sustain. The teacher and students then discuss why projects succeeded or failed.

Rosales and other IEEE volunteers presented Critical Load in May at the International Children and Youth Reading Fair, held in Guatemala City. Nearly 40 children from low-income households at the El Alcance community center in Santa Catarina Pinula participated.

Other workshops use resources from TryComputing.org, which covers all aspects of creating and operating computer software and systems.

Beyond TISP workshops, the student branch is developing a local program—PatoBITS—whose name combines the Guatemalan word patojos (meaning children) and bits (binary digits). The program teaches kids between the ages of 8 and 14 computer science skills and covers key concepts about programming, with hands-on activities designed to address real-world problems.

“Children have diverse learning styles, and they pick up on new technologies quickly,” Rosales says. “These workshops can teach specific skills and concepts early in their education.

GOING TO THE FAIR

Volunteers also hold the IEEE Technology Fair Guatemala (FETEC). Started in 2002, the fair showcases technology projects from throughout Guatemala, and “promotes the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in the country,” Rosales says. The event is sponsored by companies in the country, including Blue Dot Engineering and TEC Lab.

The event is aimed at students of all ages, including those from university. Engineers and tinkerers also attend. In 2017, the event was organized with the IEEE Student Branch of Universidad del Valle. There was a sumo robot wrestling competition, sessions on how nanotechnology can be used for renewable energy systems, and an introduction about how to program Raspberry Pi for the Internet of Things. Another talk was on open-source intelligence—the use of data collected from publicly available sources.

This year’s fair, which the IEEE-USAC Student Branch is helping to organize along with the FETEC organizing committee, will be merged with Maker Expo Guatemala 2018. The event is scheduled for 27 and 28 October.

“The main objective of this event,” Rosales says, “is to form a community of makers in the country.”

He says he believes such events are key. Learning about computers from an early age is what got Rosales interested in engineering, he says.

“I started using a computer at the age of 5, and although I mostly used it to play games, it also piqued my curiosity about how the machine works,” he says. “When my computer broke, my cousin came over to repair it, and I asked him a lot of questions. The more he explained the parts to me, the more interested I became. It was then that I knew I wanted to work on computers when I was older.”

Rosales says IEEE has allowed him the opportunity to pay it forward and help promote STEM careers to students. He emphasizes that this work has all been possible because of the support of IEEE volunteers from around the country, including his friend Víctor Manuel Carranza Mejicanos, an IEEE member and founder of the IEEE Educational Activities Group in Guatemala.

“These accomplishments are not mine, but of all,” Rosales says.

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