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Making a Difference in the Community

By David Marsh, junior HSP student in mechanical engineering, 2014 Cohort

The Haslam Scholars Program is founded on four pillars: integrity, diversity, social justice, and social responsibility. These pillars construct a program dedicated to shaping scholars into socially conscious thinkers and, more importantly, doers. I quickly discovered that the critical social lessons taught in my Haslam Scholars courses would have more of an impact on my life than the physics taught in my engineering program. Social consciousness is merely a fruitless thought exercise without action, so serving Pond Gap and Inskip Elementary Schools is a vital knowledge integration experience for Haslam Scholars.

During my first year of service at Pond Gap Elementary, I immediately observed a lack of STEM education and experiences. I wanted to help introduce these young students to a new world of possibilities through engineering and learn more about the specific challenges students face when considering futures in STEM. I proposed a Lego Robotics Club, hoping that it could be the entry point to engineering for these elementary-aged students. Admittedly, prior to the Lego Robotics Club, I had little experience working with elementary students or Lego EV3 parts.

While I quickly learned that Lego kits were intuitive and easy to use, elementary students were somewhat of an enigma.

During my third day with the Lego Robotics Club, I remember sitting on the ground to test one of the robots. A student asked what I was doing, and sat straight down in my lap. No warning, just plopped down. No amount of education in Haslam Scholars classes or knowledge of robotics could have prepared me for that—only experience. It was clear this fourth-grade student needed companionship, so I shifted him to the side of one of my legs, and I continued helping the other students test the robot. After this experience, I became less concerned about the students’ knowledge of robotics and more conscious about supporting their development and confidence in their problem-solving abilities and their beliefs so they can pursue careers in engineering. Lego robotics just happens to be a fun way to instill this confidence.

The most rewarding aspect of leading a Lego robotics club is paying forward a significant experience that greatly influenced my own engineering dreams.

I owe much of my engineering interests, abilities, and skills to membership in my middle- and high school’s robotics clubs. Through my service with the Haslam Scholars, I can introduce one of my major passions to elementary-aged students. I have developed a commitment to creating opportunities for those in under-resourced communities who are less likely to be exposed to an engineering curriculum. For students, the Lego Robotics Club fosters a positive experience with building, designing, and programming each week. For the volunteers and me, facilitating the club allows us to gain glimpses of how social institutions construct disadvantages. Although many of these students have lived through hardships that I have not, Lego robotics shows that they are as eager as anyone to learn about engineering.

My last duty to Pond Gap Elementary is ensuring the Lego club is sustainable and continues to inspire the next generation of future engineers. Next semester, I will start training my replacement as I approach my graduation from UT. As I move forward in my career, I will look back on my time with the Lego Robotics Club and continue to search for opportunities to serve my community by sharing my passion in engineering.