To encourage the exploration of STEM-based careers, the Manufacturing and Technology Research Consortium (MTRC) at Stony Brook University has partnered with technology company Mechanismic Inc. to integrate the Design, Innovation and Robotics Summer Program into the Long Island Urban League Youth Summer Program . Thirteen students participated in the camp, which was held August 8-19 at the Stony Brook Information and Wireless Technology Center of Excellence (CEWIT).
Urban League of Long Island is a nonprofit organization and an affiliate of the National Urban League, the nation’s largest urban and civil rights group. Funding for the program was provided by a Workforce Initiative grant from America Works, a national effort to coordinate the training efforts of American manufacturing industry, generating a more capable workforce , skilled and diverse.
Mechanismic, a technology startup from Stony Brook University, has developed SnappyXOa robotics education platform that challenges students to think outside the box while simultaneously teaching them many of the engineering principles they will need to succeed in the STEM workforce.
“SnappyXO was originally created to fulfill a fundamental need to teach first-year students authentic engineering design in the context of robotics,” said Anurag Purwar, Managing Director of Mechanismic and Assistant Professor of mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at Stony Brook.
Purwar is working to develop a design-driven educational robotics framework, a unified and holistic platform that teaches students about engineering design, practical electronics, and computer programming under one roof.
“This program allows us to bring in children from low-income households and put them through a workforce training program,” said Cynthia Colon, program manager at MTRC. “There are tech companies looking for those exact skills.”
Colon said the workshop started in 2018 and was virtual in 2020-21. This year, he returned to a classroom.
“It was great to have the students come back in person,” she said. “They met kids from all around Long Island and actually built robots with each other.”
“We use the university’s economic development programs to reach out to the community and raise students’ and youth’s interest in STEM,” said Rong Zhao, director of the CEWIT center.
Zhao said robots using the technology covered in the workshop are used to make high-risk inspection and maintenance work safer and more accessible.
“Utilities are increasingly using robots, drones and other technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, for high-risk or remote tasks,” Zhao said. “For example, with power grids and gas pipelines, the worker who is on site may not know how to perform critical repairs that may be needed. Technologies can allow experts who are not on site to help in real time. Paramedics and disaster response professionals can leverage these same capabilities in emergency situations. Also, many business activities will be transformed by gamification, which is like putting real-world activities into a gaming environment. Future STEM jobs won’t involve sitting around writing code every day to create apps or websites; you’ll build real, functional things in a gamified virtual space, so the user experience can be much more fun and engaging, and these gamified apps will help us work more productively and innovate faster.
“The goal of the summer camp was to expose participants to robotics, programming, mechanical design,” Purwar said, “all of which will be key components of a future workforce that will leverage robotics and related STEM disciplines, and I hope this experience will inspire them to become the technology leaders of tomorrow.
Rohan Manragh, a high school student from Bay Shore, New York, found the camp intriguing.
“I’m on the high school robotics team, and that got me interested,” he said. “The future is technology. After trying it, I knew I wanted to do something in architecture or technical engineering.
However, not all students who have attended the camp wish to pursue a career in technology.
“I plan to go to college to become a nurse,” said Laurie Casseus, a senior from Wheatley Heights, New York, who has an interest in video games and gaming. “For now it’s a hobby, but you never know.”
“One thing I’ve seen with kids in low- and moderate-income communities is that they don’t believe they can do it,” Purwar said. “With workshops like these, one of the goals is to get these students to believe they can do it. We want to give them a taste of the disciplines and a glimpse of the future while showing them the diversity of the field. If we can change their identity a bit and give them the confidence and motivation to pursue their dreams, it can be a life-changing experience.
— Robert Emproto