Texas Tech University

Whitacre College of Engineering Professor Chosen as Fulbright Scholar

Kristen Barton

September 15, 2016

Tanja Karp is teaching in South Africa through the Fulbright Scholars program.

Tanja Karp
Tanja Karp

Tanja Karp, an associate professor in the Whitacre College of Engineering, is experiencing a very different work environment than the engineering key on Texas Tech University's campus. Karp is in South Africa as part of the Fulbright teaching and research project, where she facilitates learning in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields with Lego robotics.

"The Fulbright teaching and research project aims at increasing interest in STEM disciplines among teachers and learners in primary and secondary education through exciting hands-on LEGO robotics programs and competitions while improving education of students enrolled at the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) at the University of South Africa (UNISA)," Karp said.

While in South Africa for the first time, Karp is developing a project curriculum that can be made available for future use by educators who want to teach Lego robotics. At Texas Tech, Karp has implemented the Get Excited About Robotics (GEAR) project, which is an annual Lego robotics competition for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

"This program continues a long tradition of Dr. Karp in using robotics to both increase interest in STEM, and through her complimentary service learning courses, increase retention in STEM at the same time," said Al Sacco Jr., Dean of the Whitacre College of Engineering. "Consistent with the college's desire to be an elite, global institution, Dr. Karp is advancing her programs to South Africa."

Earning a Fulbright scholarship has always been a dream of Karp's, she said. With the help of the Office of the Vice President for Research and other members of her department, Karp is now living her dream in South Africa until June.

"Her dedication and innovation around STEM programs is amazing and represents the Whitacre College of Engineering's desire to contribute to the solution of global problems," Sacco said. "In this case, that is increasing the interest worldwide in STEM fields."

Living in another country has required some adjustments, such as driving on the left side of the road and people selling goods at intersections, but everyone there has been helpful and kind, she said.

"I strongly believe that living and working in a different country is an eye-opening experience," Karp said. "There are so many things in daily life that we take for granted until we see them being approached differently in another country."

Karp hopes the work she is doing in South Africa does not end after the program is over, but that it has a global impact.

"One of the plans we have is to establish an international virtual robotics competition for students in South Africa, Texas and other countries," she said. "One of the major struggles of K-12 robotics teams is fundraising to cover the cost of travel to participate at a national/international competition. We plan to overcome this issue by using videoconferencing and social media."