United by STEM: One Team, Two Continents

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By Yusuph Masanja
Global Alumni Coordinator

Two Goldin Fellows from South Africa and the USA (Dieudonne Allo and Jacquelyn Moore) are joining forces to convene young people with an interest in STEM and Robotics from Chicago (USA) and Port Alfred (South Africa) to collaborate as a unified team to compete in the FIRST® Innovation Challenge presented by Qualcomm.

Both seasoned professionals in teaching STEM through real world application in their respective countries, Dieudonne and Jacquelyn share a commitment to teaching robotics related skills to illustrate the value of engaging in a cross-continental collaboration with youth ages 13-19. For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST®) is a global community which seeks to empower and equip young people to become innovators in STEM, and foster life-long skills through inclusive team-based initiatives.

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Allo is the CEO of the Global Leading Light Initiative, a non-profit in South Africa which supports young people in historically disadvantaged communities to acquire future proof skills, with the aim of reducing poverty and inequalities. Moore is the founder and Executive Director of Agape Werks, Inc, a community based non-profit in Chicago with a mission to promote in young people an appreciation of math, science, technology, and engineering as strategic tools for success regardless of life circumstances. In Agape Werks’ offerings, all skills will be learned and applied in an inclusive and collaborative environment that partners teens of various skill levels, interests, and heritage with caring and professional adults, all focused on the same goal.

Allo and Moore developed the “One Team Two Continents” concept in 2019 when they began exploring cross-continental collaboration opportunities after meeting through the Goldin Global Fellows program. This initiative envisions a youth-led, distributed team working together by using robotics related skills to meaningfully address common issues that impact their geographically dispersed communities.

The global pandemic led to FIRST® making their programs virtual, removing the need for participants to travel. One of these remote programs offered by FIRST® was the Global Innovation Challenge, a competition for teams to design a solution under the theme of ‘active play and movement’, for which youth from South Africa formally joined the Chicago Knights to compete in the 2020-21 FIRST® GAME CHANGERS℠ powered by Star Wars: Force for Change. In February of 2021, the youth began working together to submit a solution to the challenge: “Identify a problem or opportunity to help people (or a community of people) keep, regain, or achieve optimum physical and/or mental health and fitness through active play or movement”.

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The team represents 2 continents, 3 countries, 8 unique primary languages, plus 5 unique languages team members are learning.

Each member has committed to meeting three days a week for at least 10 weeks, to learn from each other and to foster cross-cultural collaboration and sharing. Bringing together their combined knowledge, passions, insights, and interests, they have developed a solution based on cutting edge technology and empathy for their users. They are now focused on finalizing their business presentation and pitch. The team (the International Chicago Knights) will be pitching their solution to a panel of judges on April 3, 2021 and will share it with you here, soon after.

When asked why they joined the team, the youth responses ranged from “my mom wanted me to join, but now I really enjoy learning programming” (Rebecca, South Africa) to “I am interested in learning about and designing a robot” (Anathi, South Africa). Almost all of them are excited about learning to use the Python programming language. Team member Baaqer (USA) adds: “passion to discover new technologies and solve challenging problems in the purpose of helping people gives me the everyday encouragement to stay effectively committed to the challenge.”

Moore has led the mentoring and learning process during the 5 different sessions each week, with a diverse group of mentors and subject matter experts working with her. This includes team alumni, retired engineers, medical professionals, and business partners. Programming mentor, Sarah (graduate student, USA) volunteers because her “desire for constant learning is a significant motivation to be involved in this challenge. I want to learn, help, and work with others to solve problems!” The team members are learning a variety of business, technical, and interpersonal skills, and how to apply these skills to group problem solving. More importantly, the teens are learning new ways of communicating and gaining a deep understanding of creating universally accessible products.

“This extraordinary learning experience is not only imparting STEM-related skills, but it is also changing teens’ perceptions of themselves, others and life. At GLLI, one of the main challenges we have faced in our work with young people is their limited beliefs about themselves and others. ‘One Team Two continents’ is going beyond teaching them robotics and design skills to tackle this challenge in a significant way. The co-creation and excitement which I observe during sessions constantly raise the question, “How can we help more underserved teens to access this program?” —Goldin Global Fellow, Dieudonne Allo, South Africa.

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“This particular initiative is a concrete example of what we want to accomplish as partners. It’s an opportunity to test and prove that it can work. We are not chasing the trophy in this competition; we are chasing the goals, but if we get the trophy that’s icing on the cake.” — Chicago Peace Fellow, Jacquelyn Moore, USA.

Cross-cultural collaboration does indeed have its challenges, including the differences in time zones, culture, and language. But the team’s values of trust, relationship building, and commitment to taking the appropriate steps have helped them accommodate these differences. Team member Siyanda (South Africa) persists despite the challenges stating, “we communicate, and we are doing it as a team.” The goal of this partnership is to eventually create an in-person interaction among the youth involved in this initiative, through international exchange programs (when pandemic safety measures allow for this). Students from both continents will host their peers and show their community assets, expertise and continue developing their peer relationships. Team members share their reasons to continue this initiative when they tell us “robots and programming are cool” (Jason, South Africa) and “...you get a different perspective from another part of the world. It's like working internationally and I think that's pretty cool!” (Joshua (USA).

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To ensure the success of this initiative, the One Team Two Continents team needs your support.

Their process requires resources which most youth cannot afford and cannot access. The One Team Two Continents initiative would appreciate any help to obtain the following items. To make a contribution please visit the team’s PayPal page.

To support remote learning:

  • Mobile hotspots (or home internet access)
  • Internet capable computing devices (at least a smart phone or tablet)
  • Webcams
  • Microphones
  • Headphones

Additionally, to support learning specific skills:

  • Windows 10 computers with at least 8G RAM (for robotics specific software, also supports remote learning)
  • three button USB mice (for 3D modeling and design)
  • Electronics Project Kits
  • Educational robot kits

To support bringing the product to market, cash, or in-kind donations of:

  • Raw materials for fabrication (polycarbonate, acrylic, 3D filament)
  • Graphics Artist (marketing purposes)
  • Specific electronic components (sensors, micro controller, etc)

To Support travel when it is permissible, cash donations help pay for:

  • Passport and Visa fees for students
  • Travel Costs (local and abroad)
  • Housing for students and mentors/chaperons
  • Cultural experiences (local and abroad)

 

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT ONE TEAM, TWO CONTINENTS

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