Building a robot, developing a nation

first_imgSela Kasepa first heard about the Pan-African Robotics Challenge while channel surfing in her living room in Kitwe, Zambia. The program enthralled her. Kasepa thought a robotics competition could inspire her fellow Zambians to take an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, fueling technical advancement in the developing Central African nation.Fast-forward a few years and Kasepa was a Harvard freshman taking “Computer-Aided Machine Design” (ES 51) at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences when that fascination was rekindled. Watching the robot she built maneuver around a competition course, she felt empowered.“Many people would say robotics is a far-fetched idea, but there is so much more involved than building a robot,” said Kasepa, who is now a sophomore. “You think, ‘I have made this with my own hands, and I could make more things.’ Robotics can drive a change in mind-set. If we can help young people have that feeling, that can drive technological advancement.”Kasepa began looking for a robotics competition Zambian youth could join, and found FIRST Global, an annual student robotics Olympiad founded by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen. Zambia was not among the 162 countries participating, so she asked about future contests. Organizers urged her to launch a team for 2017, even though other nations had already begun raising money and training students.A robot was at the center of seven teens’ lives as they worked to catch up to their international competitors for the FIRST Global annual student robotics competition in D.C. The Zambian team earned 32nd place out of 163 teams. Photo courtesy of Sela Kasepa“It felt like such an outside idea. I wondered if it was even possible,” she said. “I decided to take up the challenge. If you never dare to start, you probably will never end up starting at all.”Kasepa called her mentor, Peter Lungu, director of the Zambian Institute for Sustainable Development (ZISD), a nongovernmental educational outreach organization that had awarded her a scholarship, setting her on a path toward Harvard. Lungu agreed to help recruit students and mentor the team in Zambia, since Kasepa was now deep into her college coursework.They enlisted seven students, set up a robotics shop at ZISD headquarters, and ordered the FIRST Robotics kit of materials to build the machine and basic construction guides.The competition theme was clean drinking water, and robots were designed to collect and sort color-coded bowls signifying clean and contaminated water. Kasepa coached the team via Skype and recorded demos of fabrication techniques on YouTube.Passionate and dedicated, the students worked from sunrise to sunset as they caught up with their international competitors. Kasepa’s long-distance encouragement boosted team members when they hit roadblocks, like when parts broke and they lost valuable time waiting for replacements to pass through customs.“With every building process, just when you think it works, technical or design faults always develop,” she said. “The robot had to be rebuilt a number of times.”But as the robot came together, a new worry emerged — how to fund the journey from Zambia to the international competition in Washington, D.C., in July.Kasepa began making cold calls, but couldn’t get a response. Then she shared her frustrations during a casual conversation with Evelyn Hu, the Tarr-Coyne Professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering. Hu offered to help, and secured a grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research that would cover travel expenses for the three team members required to qualify. Using Lungu’s contacts at an Ethiopian airline, they negotiated sharply discounted airfare and were able to pay for all seven teammates to attend. Kasepa was elated, but lacking funding for her own travel, she would have to watch the competition streamed live online.The first match ended early for the Zambian team; one of the robot’s chains was displaced and they were unable to fix it before time ran out. Devastated, the students worked into the night making repairs.On the second and final day of competition, Kasepa tuned in, leaning close to the computer screen as the day’s frenzied contests began. The Zambian robot ran seamlessly. When the dust settled, her team had earned 32nd place out of 163 national teams.“I am extremely proud of them,” she said. “I hope they learned that they are more than capable of being innovative and creating something. As a nation, Zambia needs to drive toward innovation, and these students can be leaders in that arena.”Kasepa, who also organized a robotics showcase for Zambian children during a school holiday, wants the country’s participation in FIRST Global to continue. She hopes that with the support of mentors and the excitement of the young students who saw their country compete on a global stage, they will be able to sustain the program.“It is now clear to me that a country’s greatest resource is its people,” she said. “If you have people who are willing to work toward something, I definitely think a country’s future can be bright. The minerals or raw materials in the earth are not as valuable as the ideas that people step up to achieve together.”last_img read more

Students share Ugandan stories

first_imgWhile many Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame students spend a semester abroad in Europe and Australia, six Belles chose a less traditional location for their international studies: Uganda. These rising senior nursing and education students shared stories, photos and videos of their six-week summer experience in a capstone presentation Monday. The students stayed with the sisters of the Holy Cross in Kyarusozi, Uganda, and worked with the sisters in rural community’s school and health clinic. Using the phrasing of a popular Ugandan Coca-Cola advertisement that proclaims there are “a billion reasons to believe in Africa,” the students shared their personal reasons for believing in Uganda. After working in the Kymbogo Health Center in Kyarusozi, senior nursing student Joy Johnston said she believes in the country’s unique way of life. “Working with the staff [at the clinic], there was no stress,” Johnston said. “They don’t rush, but they do what they need to do.” She also described the differences in technology. “There is no technology. So if someone has an IV, they rely on gravity,” she said. Senior Cassie Fill, a nursing student, said she believes her time in Uganda changed her initial perception of African lifestyles. “Contrary to stereotypes … [Ugandans] are healthier than people think,” she said. “As I finished my first day, I realized I had stereotyped them.” Senior nursing student Genevieve Spittler said “the sheer beauty of the country” and its people was reason enough to believe in Africa, especially when she and the other students had the opportunity to assist in deliveries while working at the clinic. “To hear a child’s first breath is the most beautiful thing,” Spittler said. The three education students shared their experiences of working in Moreau Nursery and Primary School, which teaches children from the equivalent of preschool to fourth grade. Senior Jen Prather, an elementary education major, said the connection she made with people in Uganda and the other Saint Mary’s students defined her abroad experience. “My reason for believing in Africa is because of our faithful and spiritual bond [with one another],” she said. “We all had formed a new family together and it wasn’t just the six of us.” Senior Sarah Copi said she shared a similar feeling of community with the children she met. “They taught me more than I could ever teach them,” she said. Copi said the hospitality of the Ugandan people meant a great deal to her. “They taught us generosity. They were always willing to give and share even if they didn’t have a lot,” she said. Senior elementary education major Nora Quirk said her students displayed a willingness to learn and valued education highly. “Every day there would be at least ten students who did not want to leave,” she said. “Every child takes an active role in their education.” Quirk said she wants to bring that same enthusiasm into her future classroom. “I really want to make sure I instill that value in my students here in the United States,” she said. In addition to speaking about their experiences, the students sold jewelry and other crafts purchased at Maria’s Shop in Fort Portal, Uganda. The proceeds from these items will support the Kymbogo Health Center and Moreau Nursery and Primary school in Kyarusozi. The Uganda Summer Program is available to rising seniors majoring in nursing and education. Three students from each major are selected and receive seven academic credits for the program. Interested students can apply online through the Center of Women’s Intercultural Leadership on the Saint Mary’s website.last_img read more

Pirates Win Decatur County Cross Country Meet

first_imgThe Decatur County Cross Country Meet results.Girls: Greensburg 17, North Decatur 55, South Decatur 61.Boys: Greensburg 15, South DEcatur 62, North Decatur 69.20180914065810042Courtesy of Chargers Coach Scott Johnson.last_img