It's an opportunity Steven Elia (E'09) only dreamed about — until he and two other Carnegie Mellon students traveled to Our Lady of Lourdes College in the Philippines and helped create a robotics curriculum.
The experience was made possible through a program called Technology Consulting in the Global Community, spearheaded by Carnegie Mellon professor Joe Mertz.
Before going, Elia thought the trio would come up with a few robotics classes and that would be that. He didn't foresee how their presence would resonate beyond their immediate work.
"Just our being there gave a lot of the local people the hope and drive necessary for improving their current situation," Elia said. "Students showed a greater interest in enrolling, knowing there were Americans working on improving the school. And teachers stayed on as faculty to get some training from Carnegie Mellon graduates."
Elia also noted that more top-tier universities expressed an interest in working with Our Lady of Lourdes College, knowing that it had already partnered with Carnegie Mellon.
"As students and teachers and universities all end up working together, you begin to see how one group's self-improvement inadvertently affects the others in a positive way," Elia said.
Alex Hills, a distinguished service professor of engineering and public policy who has assisted Mertz with the program in a variety of ways, said, "Our students always amaze me, and this was no exception."
Elia said the whole experience required him to be flexible and open-minded. From the classes they came up with to their recommendations for the school's future, everything had to fit with the educational system that already exists in the Philippines.
"Learning about that and how high schools and colleges have to operate there was a big task in itself, and changing our methods to work within those confines is a large part of the challenges that come with working in a wider global environment," Elia said.
Sixiao Joy Liu (E'09), a mechanical engineering grad, was inspired and humbled by the Philippine people's hard work, vision and determination.
"I believe I am better prepared to work among teams of different cultures and personalities, learning to adapt to the general culture and their norms while still maintaining my core values," she said.
Si ying Diana Hu (E'11), who is majoring in electrical and computer engineering with minors in robotics and music technology, left for the Philippines expecting that the project would have some impact. But she came back elated with what the team actually was able to accomplish.
"The people showed such willingness and kindness toward our work. I never felt so compelled to do a good job," Hu said. "We became teachers — not only teaching the material that would be in the robotic classes, but working together with the faculty to create a robotics curriculum that would be truly theirs."