Four New York City high school students—Alison Grossman, Kaitlin Davis, Henry Chen and Tatiyana Hendrickson—know a lot more about robotics than they used to, thanks to the BMCC STEP for Leaders program. They also know more about college, lab protocols and working with a team.
STEP is the Science and Technology Entry Program, explains Project Director Everton Barrett. It provides underrepresented or economically disadvantaged high school students with problem-solving experience in science, mathematics and technology.
“We’re serving over 150 high school students at BMCC this year,” Barrett says. “They benefit from SAT preparation and research experience. They also participate in a statewide STEP conference, and come away with more confidence about what it takes to succeed in college.”
A statewide competition
The BMCC STEP robotics team worked closely with engineering professor Mahmoud Ardebili and with Daniel Loi, a BMCC engineering alumni working as a STEP team advisor in the robotics lab.
“The students were given a task and had to think of designs to accomplish the task,” says Loi, adding that their task was to create a programmable robot that when surrounded by balls of different colors, removes only the blue ones.
After months of developing their robot, the students boarded a chartered bus with Director Barrett and other BMCC staff, and headed upstate for the Annual Robotics Competition at the STEP for Leaders conference in Albany.
There, at the Marriott Hotel, they joined 11 other STEP teams from across New York State.
“All the groups had the same task,” says Alison, who is looking toward a career in anesthesiology. “Judges scored the task to see if the right balls were removed by the robot.”
As Henry, who wants to become a mechanical engineer put it, “It was a group of judges just staring you down.”
A tense moment came up, Allison says, “when we realized the color sensor on the robot wasn’t working.” Acting quickly under pressure, the students not only got their robot up and running, they won First Place.
“We found out on Sunday, when the conference was almost over,” says Kaitlin, the only high school senior in the group, and who just applied to the civil engineering program at City College, CUNY. “We had a breakfast ceremony.”
“They called us up to the stage and we were jumping up and down,” says Alison, and Tatiyana, who wants to be a forensic scientist, adds, “It was heart-racing but exciting.”
Making college seem more attainable
In addition to special projects, STEP participants take part in SAT ‘prep’ workshops and enrichment classes in chemistry, biology and physics.
“Many of the high school students have only had the ‘chalk and board’ experience of these subjects,” says STEP Director Everton Barrett, “but at BMCC, they experience minds-on and hands-on learning.”
He adds that the students take part in social science, as well as engineering projects.
“For example,” he says “some students did research on the constitutionality of ‘stop-and-frisk’ policies, and on how much the U.S. government’s engagement in war costs.”
Most of all, he says, “being part of STEP gets young people into a college setting. It demystifies college for students who might be first in their families to pursue higher education. Having successful experiences in the labs and using the resources at BMCC makes college seem more attainable, as their next step after high school.”