GCU helps the school engineer to a better future in STEM field

Jazmine Cordon checks the wires of her team’s plant watering robot on Monday in the GCU engineering building. The project was chosen to participate in the MESA USA National Engineering Design Competition.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
CUU Information Office

Fiona Tran is working on STEM activities at GCU after presenting her team’s engineering design project, a light to help wheelchair users navigate the trails at night.

“It’s show time”, Mia DeLaRosa bellows Monday morning as she approaches Fiona tran.

Tran, who just finished eighth grade at Sevilla Elementary School West, is ready with her laptop on in Grand Canyon University Engineering building. It is only a minute away from its virtual presentation at the MESA USA National Engineering Design Competition. This is the first time that Sevilla West has qualified for the nationals.

In the adjacent room, the ASU QESST high school team, whose roots are also in West Seville, feel the same electricity. Their nerves are at their highest because they too are waiting for the “Go! »To start their presentation in the same national competition.

“Just say your name and you have 10 points,” says DeLaRosa, the STEM educator at Sevilla West, feeling Tran’s nerves and helping him build his confidence.

“Remember, you know all; they know nothing“, GCU K12 STEM Responsible for outreach Marni Landry pipes in it, inflating Tran’s confidence even more.

So it’s definitely show time: “Hi. I am Fiona Tran. Our project is called Light at Night… ”

Join the STEM cause

K12 STEM Head of awareness Marni Landry

It was in 2017 when Landry and his GCU STEM cohort, K12 STEM Outreach Director Cori Araza, saw an opportunity.

MESA USA’s former university partner in central Arizona dropped out and, with GCU just launching its engineering program in 2015 (and opening the new engineering building in 2016), the outreach team K12 STEM from the university was more than excited to take over from MESA.

The School Outreach Program – it stands for Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement – engages tens of thousands of educationally disadvantaged students across the country in math and science through lessons, counseling, exploration of career path and competition. The hope is that they will graduate in mathematics and that these educationally disadvantaged students will become scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

GCU has the same vision when it comes to STEM education.

“It’s supporting our community,” said Landry. “MESA specifically targets young people and underserved populations. Mission # 1 is to get students who are not represented in STEM fields – fields of engineering – to have this experience so that they have confidence. We find that students have an interest, but if they haven’t been exposed to it, they don’t have the confidence to move forward.

GCU wants to instill this trust, especially in students from the inner city neighborhoods around the university – neighborhoods that GCU has dedicated itself to serving as part of its Christian mission.

GCU has supported the surrounding community not only through MESA USA, but also through partnerships with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity to renovate homes in the Canyon Corridor and through initiatives such as Students Inspiring Students , which awards neighborhood scholarships to students like these. in Seville West.

Mia DeLaRosa, MESA educator at Sevilla West Primary School, mentored two teams for the national championships with the help of GCU’s K12 STEM outreach team.

Landry and Araza have served as mentors to communities on the Alhambra Elementary School District campus, including Sevilla West, which is approximately half a mile from GCU. They coach teams and have offered workshops throughout the year.

And they are not alone.

“Cori is really good at finding a GCU student to pair up with student teams,” Landry said.

“I can’t underestimate, when people say I couldn’t do it without them it tends to be cliché, but it’s not a cliché,” DeLaRosa from Sevilla West said of the support. that she receives volunteer parents and fellow educators such as the team at GCU, who introduced their students to engineering through a potato bridge construction project a few years ago and sent students of GCU in its classrooms. “It’s been just a really good relationship over the years – Cori and Marni and the teacher (Kevin) Williams more in engineering. They have all been very supportive of us. “

“Designing for equity”

Seville West students Jazmine Cordon, Corey Dikes, Michael Hernandez and Myla Dykes present their project: a robot sprinkler of plants called Gerald the Dog.

This support has paid off with not one but two teams from Sevilla West reaching the national level of competition in the midst of a pandemic. The high school team, unable to compete in the previous year due to COVID-19, were invited to compete this year.

The contest challenge, titled “Designing for Fairness,” asked students to identify an individual or group experiencing inequity. Then, using a microprocessor as a key design element, the teams were tasked with coming up with a solution using human-centered design practices. The teams had to use Arduino, Circuit Playground Express or Micro: bit microprocessors.

Tenth grader Jasmine cordThe MESA USA adventure began over a year ago. In February 2020, she started her MESA project in college with her best friend, Keily barrios, in the central regional competition on the GCU campus.

Barrios loves plants, Cordon loves cats and cute things, and they have combined their two interests. The result: a plant sprinkler robot designed to look like a cat.

It’s programmed in C ++ computer language using an Arduino board and is able to read inputs – a humidity sensor, in this case – and turn those inputs into output (the release of water).

But before state and national competitions can unfold, the pandemic has struck.

This unique one-year break in normal daily life turned out to be fortuitous for the ASU QESST team and facilitator. Dr Shawn Jordan from Arizona State University, the team’s sponsor.

“We have to tweak everything and improve the project,” said a member of the team. Michel hernandez, who worked on the plant watering robot alongside Cordon, Myla Dikes and Corey dykes. The team changed the robot’s design, its user orientation, and had the chance to do more research.

Gerald the Robot is a plant sprinkler robot designed to help educate middle school students to grow their own vegetables.

“We wanted to fight global warming and food insecurities,” Cordon added of resolving an injustice in the world.

One of the changes was to transform the robot’s interface with humans from a cat to a dog, nicknamed Gerald. Research found that the college audience the team was trying to reach with this project preferred dogs to cats.

The goal is to help students in grades four to eight grow their own vegetables in a fun and easy way, which in turn will allow these young green thumbs to develop healthier eating habits.

“The team honestly put in so many hours working on it, so I think we’re all proud enough of ourselves to get this far,” Cordon said.

She added of GCU’s support: “They have stepped in giving us a space where we feel comfortable, and there are people around who want to help us.”

The other Sevilla West team, sponsored by the Alhambra Elementary School District, wanted to help wheelchair users. She therefore designed lighting specifically for wheelchairs. The idea was to help extend a wheelchair user’s day and make it safer to travel at night.

Tran, who worked on the project with Hanna allen, said there are wheelchairs that can do amazing things. But surprisingly, they didn’t find much in their research on wheelchair lighting.

“It was such a simple fix,” Tran said. “You would think it would have already come out somewhere. You have wheelchairs going up the stairs, wheelchairs that you can use on rough terrain, but no. “

About her virtual conversation with the judges, she said: “This project has opened our eyes to the life of a person with a disability.

These are the kinds of experiences and accomplishments educators like DeLaRosa, Landry, and Araza hope the students they mentor will have.

While the GCU-backed Sevilla West teams learned on Tuesday that they did not rank in the competition, they have made huge strides just to make it onto the national stage during such a difficult time.

“You find the failure and give it a hug,” DeLaRosa said.

It is a lesson in life that she often passes on to her students.

Translation: You learn from failure, then you improve.

“We will continue to do so. The involvement of future students and GCU staff is so powerful, ”said Landry of the educational investment in the community. “It’s a very easy way to give back and mentor students – from zero to little effort. Just be present.

GCU Senior Editor Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


Related content:

T & Cs today: The students make the circuit to the MESA regional

T & Cs today: The GCU engineering event was no small potato

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