Vecna Robotics recently partnered with Citizen Schools to offer a course on automation and robotics to local middle schoolers. Citizen Schools works with volunteer Citizen Teachers from the community to help train young students with the skills they need to thrive as adults in the modern economy.
Christian Freitas, a robotics software engineer at Vecna Robotics, sat down to discuss his experience working with students at Chelmsford Public Schools. If you’re not already caught up, be sure to check out our first blog post about giving back.
Q: Why did you decide to volunteer with Vecna Robotics and Citizen Schools?
CF: I decided to volunteer with Citizen Schools because the program is promoting what I was looking for growing up. I had a few shop classes and other experiences working on some aspects of engineering, but never a chance to really explore what it meant to be an engineer or an opportunity to communicate with engineering professionals who might have given me some of the early encouragement I was after.
Q: What was your first impression of the classroom?
CF: I thought it was awesome, the classroom at McCarthy Middle School felt like a real lab space. They had several 3D printers set up, where their 7th graders were working on modeling objects and printing them. One wall was lined with bins of components for building mobile robots, available for use as needed. It felt very important that there was an environment where the students could get what they needed for the project, rather than being told explicitly what to build.
I grew up in a town close to Chelmsford, and honestly seeing the classroom made me so happy, I was excited to see students have an environment like this, even if it’s just for the class period.
Q: What surprised you most during your experience?
CF: The students had no hesitation to ask questions! Very quickly I was helping and giving feedback on different groups’ projects, and that pleasantly surprised me.
Q: Interest in STEM seems to be growing, how important do you think these types of initiatives are to raising awareness with younger generations?
CF: I think these initiatives are critical. By raising awareness about STEM, the field will seem much less arcane and will help to foster a generation of individuals who are informed.
Q: What have you learned from your experience with Chelmsford Public Schools?
CF: I’ve learned that middle school students are capable of a lot if given the right tools, some guidance, and plenty of space. I’m very glad to see classrooms like Pam’s provide a space to for students to demonstrate and explore their curiosity and problem solving.
Q: Were you exposed to programs like Citizen Schools when you were in middle school? If you weren’t, how could they have helped you?
CF: Overall, I was not. I had a class in middle school that had elements like that of Ms. Pam O’Meara’s classroom, but never really got exposure to people who were actively in the industry working on interesting engineering projects. To be fair, robotics is a young field, but had I been given the opportunity to interact with engineers in general, I think it might have helped me get a much clearer sense of what being an engineer is like.