Stanford University CS Major leads team to conduct 3-week STEM robotics camp in the Guyana
Sophomore Ima Christian decided to invest three weeks of her summer vacation to lead her sibling team, 17-year old Asha, 16-year old Caleb, and 13-year old Joshua Christian to Guyana to teach 180 local students to build and program Lego Mindstorm Ev3 robots. The camps were held from July 19 to August 6, culminating in a closing ceremony during which the First Lady of Guyana awarded certificates of achievement and appreciation to the nearly 200 students, STEM clubs, and sponsors who made the program possible.
The goal of the robot building and programming camps was to expose students in poor communities to new technology and to inspire them to see the possibilities in pursuing careers in technology. “Guyana recently discovered a huge reserve of oil, and within ten years the country will likely undergo massive development change that will propel a huge demand for technology services. We believe that the students in our camps today could be the IT service providers of tomorrow if they are exposed and inspired to embrace technology careers,” said Ima Christian.
18-year old Ima Christian is well known for leading her sibling team in the development of the FIVE-O police rating mobile app that won a US$22,000 prize at the
Innovating Justice Forum at the Hague, Netherlands in 2015. The app was created to give citizens a voice to review their interactions with law enforcement officers to help to improve outcomes. The Five-O team wanted to create an independent national repository for police conduct data so that any stakeholder could immediately access a rating for law enforcement in any region of the United States. Five-O is currently available for iOS and Android platforms.
According to Ima Christian, “Once we decided to take the program to Guyana, we reached out to the First Lady of Guyana, Sandra Granger who embraced the project and co-sponsored the event. The First Lady’s involvement was critical in making this possible, since she engaged the Ministry of the Presidency to sponsor our accommodation and transportation around the country for three weeks.” The Ministries of Education and Public Telecommunications in Guyana also played roles in providing locations, laptops, and snacks for students over the three-week period.
The team then worked to recruit fifty Facebook friends whom we call Team STEM Guyana, and it was their donation of US$10,000 that allowed them to fund the purchase robots, batteries, containers, and other supplies. Robot building camps were planned for eighty students in four locations, but the demand was so great that the team ended up accommodating 180 students at eight separate camps.
The Stanford sophomore said, “None of our students had ever been exposed to Lego robotics, and the vast majority had never even played with Lego bricks. Once exposed to training, though, the students overachieved, building complicated robots and customizing programs to do amazing tricks. They immediately got the logic, they understood the technology behind it and they were fascinated with each other’s projects.” “We even took a camp to an orphanage where we encountered students who had been exposed to some very unfortunate life events. There too, the interest, ability, and contributions of the students were outstanding. Everywhere we went, students were hungry to learn. It was a most amazing experience for all of us,” said Asha Christian.
The team also trained members of fifteen organizations that expressed an interest in creating STEM clubs that will continue offer Math, Science, Scratch Programming, Lego building and programming classes to community youth, particularly those in depressed communities. The robots were left with representatives of each of the clubs, and they will be monitored to ensure that the programs survive.
The summer program was also sponsored by businesses in Guyana and the United States. Church’s Chicken and Bruster’s Ice-cream local franchises, were among the local sponsors while Caribbean International Shipping sponsored all of the shipping services from the US to Guyana. Silicon Valley giant Facebook even pitched in to sponsor prizes for our student campers.
Ima Christian is currently an Investment Partner with Dorm Room Fund, she is also a member of /dev/color and a member of the entrepreneurship organization Kairos at Stanford University. She is currently working on a new startup that will encourage K-12 students across the United States to pursue STEM Education by engaging them in a fun and exciting project. The program is being tested at five local California schools, and will be rolled out nationally in the Fall of 2017.