To encourage the exploration of STEM-based careers, the Manufacturing and Technology Research Consortium (MTRC) at Stony Brook University partnered with technology company Mechanismic Inc. to bring the Design, Innovation and Robotics Summer Program to the Urban League of Long Island’s summer youth program. Thirteen students participated in the camp, which took place August 8-19 at Stony Brook’s Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology (CEWIT).
Urban League of Long Island is a nonprofit organization and an affiliate of the National Urban League, the nation’s largest civil rights and urban advocacy group. Funding for the program was provided by a workforce initiative grant from America Works, a nationwide effort to coordinate the American manufacturing industry’s training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce.
Mechanismic, a Stony Brook University tech startup, has developed SnappyXO, a robotics education platform that pushes 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 address a fundamental need to teach freshman college students authentic engineering design in the context of robotics,” said Anurag Purwar, Mechanismic’s chief executive officer and an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook.
Purwar is working to develop a design-driven educational robotics framework, a unified and holistic platform that teaches students engineering design, practical electronics and computer programming under one umbrella.
“This program allows us to bring in kids from lower income households and put them through a workforce training program,” said Cynthia Colon, program manager at MTRC. “There are technology companies looking for these exact skills.”
Colon said the workshop originated in 2018 and was virtual in 2020–21. This year it returned to a classroom setting.
“It was great to get the students back in person,” she said. “They met kids from all around Long Island and actually built robots with each other.”
“We’re using the university’s economic development programs to reach out to the community and get students and young people excited about STEM,” said Rong Zhao, center director of CEWIT.
Zhao said that robots using technology covered in the workshop are being used to make high-risk inspection and maintenance jobs safer and more accessible.
“Utilities are using robots, drones, and other technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, more and more for tasks that are high-risk or remote,” said Zhao. “For example, with power grids and gas pipelines, the worker who’s there on-site may not know how to make critical repairs that might 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. Besides, a lot of business activities will be transformed by gamification, which is like putting real-world activities in a game environment. Future STEM jobs are not going to entail sitting around writing code every day to make apps or websites; you will be building real and functional things in a gamified virtual space, so the user experience can be a lot more fun and engaging, and these gamified applications will help us work more productively and innovate faster.”
“The goal of the summer camp was to expose attendees to robotics, programming, mechanical design,” said Purwar, “all of which will be key components of a future workforce that will leverage robotics and related STEM disciplines. I hope that this experience will inspire them to be the technology leaders of tomorrow.”
Rohan Manragh, a high school junior from Bay Shore, New York, found the camp intriguing.
“I’m on the robotics team in high school and it got me interested in this,” he said. “The future is technology. After I tried it, I knew that I wanted to do something in architecture or technical engineering.”
However, not all students who attended the camp want to pursue careers in technology.
“I’m planning to go to college for nursing,” said Laurie Casseus, a senior from Wheatley Heights, New York, who has an interest in video games and gaming. “Right now it’s a hobby, but you never know.”
“One thing I’ve seen with kids from low-moderate income communities is that they don’t believe they can do it,” said Purwar. “With workshops like these, one of the goals is to make these students believe that 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 a little bit of their self-identity and give them the confidence and motivation to pursue their dreams, it can be a life-changing experience.”
— Robert Emproto