Project Leader Spotlight: Victoria Serrano

EPICS in IEEE Project Leader Victoria Serrano

Q: Tell us a little about your EPICS in IEEE Project.

The EPICS in IEEE project consisted of building a Lego EV3 Snake to study and reinforce the mathematical concepts that students learn in traditional classes. A cohort of fifteen 12th grade students worked with the Lego EV3 kits. The use of Lego Mindstorms EV3 not only allowed students to assemble mechanical parts, but it was also what controlled the robot’s movements through the use of Matlab and Simulink.

As part of the project, students developed experiments to control the speed of the snake to slither on a curvy trajectory. This allowed them to collect data such as distance, time, and velocity. At the end of the project, students participated in a competition where their snakes slithered on a curvy path and attacked a target. Additionally, all the students developed a poster and prepared for a presentation that encompassed the experiments performed in the program and the concepts they learned from the team leaders. The project took place in October 2015 at the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá (Technological University of Panama), Regional Center of Chiriquí, over a two-week period. The results were presented at the 14th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Education from January 3-6, 2016. The presentation title was: Building a Lego EV3 Snake to Improve the STEM Education of 12th Graders in Panama.

The success of the program motivated a second version of the project, which took place during the months of June and July of 2017 with the support of IEEE Control Systems Society Outreach Fund and an Arduino-base mobile robot.

Q: Why did you decide to go into an engineering/STEM-related field?

I decided to go into an engineering/STEM-related field because I was good at math, wanted to create new things, and I love making wire connections.

Q: Who is your role model and why?

My role model is my mom. Despite the fact that she never finished college and had to raise me and my sister by herself after my dad passed away, she always insisted that we had to go to college and get a better education than she did. I learned from her to never give up, no matter how difficult times could become.

Q: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned through your participation in EPICS in IEEE community service projects?

Once you are willing to make a positive change in the community, there will always be people ready to join you.

Q: How has the EPICS in IEEE program benefitted you overall?

The EPICS in IEEE program allowed me the opportunity to give back to my own community as I dreamt of before finishing my Ph.D. program. It also gave me the confidence to request international funding for research projects. Additionally, it helped me establish international collaboration between my two former schools, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá and Arizona State University (ASU). It also gave me more credibility as a researcher and more exposure in academia. One of my pictures was used by the president of ASU to highlight the importance of increasing the number of women in STEM programs.

Q: What advice do you have for other students considering a career in engineering?

Go for it! It is the best you can do. And while you’ll be enjoying creating the new technology and devices for the future, it is also a well-paid job.

Q: What are your future career plans and how do you think your experience with EPICS in IEEE will help you get there?

Now that I have completed my Ph.D. program and work as a faculty member in Panama, I want to become an outstanding researcher and a great professor – and keep giving back to the community. EPICS in IEEE allows me the opportunity to combine all of those things. While I can continue proposing projects to help the community, I can also collect the new data that my project is providing. At the same time, I will continue motivating college students to get involved in a project-based learning process where they are able to apply their knowledge and engineering skills to solve everyday problems while they conduct research.