February 11, 2010
Written by Megan Robare
GEAR is a nonprofit volunteer organization created to foster interest among school children and young adults in a career in engineering, science or technology.
With the help of select engineering students, the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, is participating in Get Excited About Robotics (GEAR), a six to eight week LEGO robotics challenge.
GEAR is a nonprofit volunteer organization created to foster interest among school children and young adults in a career in engineering, science or technology. Elementary and middle school students compete in this challenge by building and programming LEGO robots in teams.
Tanja Karp, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said the program stimulates creativity while getting students excited about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.
"Simply by participating, students learn robot design, problem solving, programming, trouble shooting, the application of math and physics principles, and team work," Karp said.
Texas Tech hosted the GEAR competition in Lubbock for the last three years. This year a record-breaking number of 90 engineering freshmen are involved in the organization of the program and mentoring approximately 400 participants as part of a service learning project of the course, she said.
"For the involved undergraduate students this was one of the few semester-long job opportunities related to their major," Karp said. "And retention of these students has been significantly higher than overall retention in the department."
Juan Chong, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, said he began working with LEGO robotics because of Karp back in spring of 2007. Chong said when the program first started it was fairly small, but it has grown due to the interest of involved schools.
"Once I joined GEAR, I felt as if I had a great responsibility," Chong said. "In a way, it made me feel as someone in the department, not just another freshman."
Chong said the children and teachers look to the mentors for technical advice, just like in a professional setting, which forces mentors to prepare themselves and develop their communication skills.
Since the program began at Texas Tech, the competition has grown from a trial run held with Harwell Elementary School in 2006 to a day-long competition with students from 20 elementary and middle schools.
A survey conducted among the 2007 competition participants and a control group of non-participating students revealed that attitudes toward STEM disciplines improved with increasing exposure to robotics. The survey also showed that regular participation in LEGO robotics-based engineering outreach activities produces a sustained positive attitude toward engineering.
The Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering has educated engineers to meet the technological needs of Texas, the nation and the world since 1925.
Approximately 4,300 undergraduate and 725 graduate students pursue bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees offered through eight academic departments: civil and environmental, chemical, computer science, electrical and computer, engineering technology, industrial, mechanical and petroleum.