Mentors at Monroe Elementary encourage the pursuit of engineering

By Angie Manzanares

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, May 10 2012 7:25 p.m. MDT

Students and mentors work together to program a robot as part of an engineering club at Monroe Elementary School.

Angie Manzanares

Enlarge photo»

WEST VALLEY CITY — When Nathalie Ramos, a fifth-grade student at Monroe Elementary School, thought about what she wanted to be when she grew up, she didn’t know what she would do or if she would even make it to college.

But all of that changed for Nathalie when she joined Monroe’s after-school electronics club.

“It gives me encouragement about my future,” she said. “They (the mentors) help me to believe I am going to college. I told my mom that I wanted to go to college and she said, ‘Of course you are going!’ ”

The idea for the club sprang from the mind of Harjit Kaur, a former Monroe student who was not only looking for a way to give back to the community but also an avenue to encourage young students to pursue engineering. She organized the club last winter.

Kaur, a senior at the University of Utah, is a biomedical engineering student. Two other students who assist with the program — Manjot Kaur, her cousin, and Adriana Garcia — also are engineering majors hoping to spark an interest in engineering.

As a result, Nathalie and other Monroe students are working with engineering software to program robots to do their bidding.

On a sunny afternoon, Nathalie cautiously manipulated the lengths and angles at which her team's robot travels and made adjustments as necessary. Her goal was to guide the robot through a “mission” — a maze of sorts that required the robot to knock over items and maneuver around obstacles without moving outside of the lines.

Kaur hoped to start the program and register her group for the Lego League — a state competition where students build robots out of Legos. But because the deadline had passed, Kaur decided to get her group geared up for next year’s event.

“I know we give to these kids, but really they give back to me, to us,” she said. “They teach me so much. I am amazed at their knowledge and how much they have learned so quickly. I am excited about where this could take them.”

Kaur plans to extend the program next year and is working with other university students to create an entire curriculum that not only includes engineering skills but teaches life skills such as presenting in front of a group, public speaking and teamwork.

“We want to teach them all kinds of things, not just engineering, but life skills they can use no matter what they decided to go into,” Kaur said.

Nathalie said the course has already encouraged her to work cooperatively with others.

“It has taught me how to work with a team,” she said. “It pushes me in other school stuff, too.”

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