Through the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET), Huskie Pride is crossing borders and changing lives.
Pettee Guerrero, a mechanical engineering graduate student and president of the NIU Society of Women Engineers, left the comforts of summer in DeKalb to bring the knowledge she has gained at NIU to Camp Eureka in Puerto Rico.
Camp Eureka was started 10 years ago by Director Miray Ramy to find activities for her children and other students to do during the summer. Beginning as primarily journalism-based, the camp expanded to the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field to foster development of those fields for the future.
Guerrero primarily focused on education in the areas of Lego robotics and WaterBotics, a relatively new field creating underwater robotics. She originally became interested in the subject matter during her undergraduate years at Trident College before coming to NIU to pursue a technology degree and becoming a certified instructor of WaterBotics.
“There is such a STEM shortfall. We wanted to help show these students that they can do these things,” Guerrero said. “We also wanted to help show them not only how to get involved with the STEM fields, but to learn how to sell their products as well. There are so many people who design these great things but don’t know how to sell themselves.”
Between two two-week sessions, Guerrero and her assistant instructor from Virginia Tech led students from ages 6 to 18 in education designed around creating Lego and water robotics.
“I had a language barrier at the beginning, because most of the students spoke a mixture of Spanish and English, but by the end, I was able to have fluent conversations with them,” Guerrero said. “The program is getting so successful (that) they actually may start doing one over winter break that I would be able to do.”
The time spent in Puerto Rico for Guerrero was not all work and no play.
She managed to find time to take in the sights, such as Bio Bay in Vieques, a bioluminescent beach, where the algae interacts with oxygen and glows vibrant colors. She also went to Toro Vierde and rode the second longest zip line in the world. She also gathered many tips about how to cook Puerto Rican food and sampled many of the local flavors and fruits.
“I learned about a new culture and new people, people who are happier than us and enjoy small things in life. They taught me how to stop for a second with the busy days and actually enjoy life,” Guerrero said. “Not only did I change lives but my life changed as well. I learned that, as engineers, we are the ones who must educate kids about what engineering is. There could be people there that may grow up to be the greatest engineer in the world, but they just need the inspiration and the education.”
As NIU engineers continue their task of educating across borders, doing so in an exotic location is certainly an added bonus.
“Overall, I wouldn’t have had this experience if it wasn’t for NIU CEET,” Guerrero said. “I love my school and I love my college.”