Breaking Down Educational Borders in Panama

When Victoria Serrano was growing up in her native Panama, one of her favorite childhood pastimes was playing with Legos.

Serrano left her electrical engineering assistant professorship at the Technological University of Panama to pursue her Ph.D. at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. While at ASU, Serrano was inspired to empower her community in David, Panama by creating high-tech Lego Mindstorms EV3 kits to teach engineering concepts to high school students.

Serrano used her EPICS in IEEE to partner with Technological University to teach the students to build robotic lego snakes. With additional help from the ASU Micro Air Vehicle Club and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Serrano assembled a team of highly qualified volunteers to facilitate the operation of the outreach program.

Victoria and her team built and tested prototypes of a Lego EV3 snake, which came equipped with a Wi-Fi nano adapter, a USB cable, and Matlab and Simulink software.

To test their snake kits, the team started locally. In a series of 4 after-school workshops on the ASU campus, 20 high school students learned to assemble the kits and to write software controlling the snake’s movements, such as slithering on a designated curved course. The students also competed to build the fastest snake and presented on their experience and concepts they learned.

The Lego Mindstorm kits used in the project were then donated to the David-area schools, enabling local IEEE groups to repeat the robotic snake workshop with more students.

“Youngsters often see engineering concepts as difficult and boring, but presenting the information in a way that combines a hands-on approach with a cool, fun activity like robotics can help them see engineering differently,” Serrano says.

Next, Serrano plans to seek funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Space Grant and Fellowship Program to expand the program to impact more students across the United States and beyond.

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Author: Michele Currenti

Michele is a creative content intern in Educational Activities at IEEE. She is currently pursing her masters in Voice & Opera at the University of Maryland, College Park. She also completed a Bachelor of Science in Brain & Cognitive Science at the University of Rochester and a Bachelor of Music at the Eastman School of Music. She is interested in finding the various intersections of science and the arts to better humanity.