By: Jo Ann Jones, COEHD
The College of Education and Human Development’s Academy for Teacher Excellence (ATE) and the Center for Civic Engagement have partnered up with the College of Engineering (COE) to bring service learning to students in a whole new way.
Through a grant from U.S. Department of Education awarded to ATE and a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded to COE, 36 students in Dr. Pranav Bhounsule’s Fundamentals of Robotics course will complete their 10-week required service project at one of ATE’s 13 after school robotics clubs. They will begin working in the schools in mid-September.
“What we want to do is to have sustained STEM mentoring in schools,” said Bhounsule, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “If the UTSA students go every week, the students in the schools will realize their potential in STEM and hopefully become interested in science.”
Once a week, the UTSA students will travel to schools throughout the San Antonio area to mentor elementary and middle school students and teach them how to work with LEGO robotic kits as the students prepare to participate in the first LEGO League, a national level robotics contest for school children. Through the NSF grant, Bhounsule will be able to provide a stipend to support the UTSA students’ travel to and from these schools.
“I teach using LEGO robotics kits and the UTSA students can take their classroom skills to mentor young kids in the community,” said Bhounsule. “The close interaction with young children allows the UTSA students to enrich their learning experience while instilling a sense of civic responsibility. That’s exactly what service learning is about.”
All of the schools served by ATE’s after school clubs are in underserved areas around San Antonio. The funding for the clubs is provided by Title V grants from the U.S. Department of Education.
“This partnership is also about making our UTSA students role models to these children and create a college-going culture at these low-income schools,” said Deborah Chaney, ATE education specialist. “A lot of these kids don’t have parents that went to college or don’t know what a college student looks like. Our UTSA students can talk about the importance of a college-going culture and how exciting it is to be an engineering or STEM student.”
The partnership will also serve as way for ATE and Bhounsule to showcase the efforts the university is making in encouraging young students to pursue STEM career paths.
“The National Science Foundation is interested in increasing the number of Americans who follow STEM careers,” said Bhounsule. “We are placing these UTSA students as role models in the community. My hope is that the students in the schools who do the robotics club will say, ‘Hey, this is something that I really want pursue as my dream career.’”
For the past two years, ATE has worked with Bhounsule’s robotics students to provide volunteer opportunities through their robotics club. The fall cohort is the largest group of student mentors ATE has had. This is due, in large part, to the course’s service learning designation from the Center for Civic Engagement, the first designation of its kind for the College of Engineering.
“For me, the excitement is about the mentorship that is going to happen,” said Brian Halderman, director of the Center for Civic Engagement. “We know that you need that sustained period of time to really develop a mentorship relationship with young people. It is important for those young students to see college-aged students who are excited about what they doing at UTSA and passionate about what they are studying and to share their knowledge and skills with those students.”
For more information about ATE’s service learning opportunities, visit the ATE website.
For more information about the College of Engineering’s Mechanical Engineering program, visit the college’s website.
For more information about the Center for Civic Engagement, visit the center’s website.