Student STEM lab begins to develop robot

Re-posted from the Old Gold and Black.

Erin Patterson/Old Gold & Black

For three hours each week, around 10 students meet in the basement of Manchester to build a robot.

It’s a relaxed environment with jokes thrown around, but it’s charged with the kind of energy you get when people are passionate about something.

This is a student-driven lab — except for the technological guidance of Paul Whitener, who volunteered to help with the class. The professors, Paúl Pauca and Pete Santago, are rarely there, because the lab is meant to be a hands-on, research-based learning experience.

“All of the stuff I know now about computer science, I basically learned through the STEM lab,” said sophomore Maddie Izard. “It’s just about being willing to learn, being open to new ideas and being creative.”

STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, is an interdisciplinary approach that aims to better prepare students for real-world applications.

At Wake Forest, the computer science department offers STEM labs where students get to participate in a STEM project for one credit hour.

It’s an opportunity for people to explore STEM without the threat of grades looming over them.

This semester, the department offered labs involving 3D printing with Jennifer Burg, drones for remote sensing with Pauca, sensors and human interaction with Pauca and Bill Conner, and robotics and remote presence with Pauca and Santago.

The STEM labs partner upperclassmen with underclassmen in a mentor/mentee system.

The faculty members are only responsible for laying out an idea at the beginning of the semester and guiding and redirecting the project as needed.

The upperclassmen, or mentors, are responsible for guiding the underclassmen, or mentees, through tough computer science lingo.

“Helping other students get involved in this and passing on the skills that I’ve learned is really important,” said junior Ally Kaminsky. “If I learn all the skills and then leave, then there’s no point in me learning it for the department.”

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