Miri – 25 July 2015 – The innocence and simplicity of a young mind very often amazes those of us who so often brag about our life experiences. Our jaded outlook on life often makes us look at complex solutions to the challenges of daily life.
Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) recently launched Tech Mentor Sarawak, a community service project involving secondary school students that will have a positive effect on the way they solve problems in time to come.
As part of the ‘SAINS on Wheels’ programme it is implementing in Sarawak in collaboration with Multimedia Development Corporation Sdn. Bhd. (MDeC), Tech Mentor Sarawak is aimed at up-skilling future professionals with lifelong aptitudes, particularly problem-solving skills, through the use of C520A Arduino Kits.
Despite being on their semester break, members of Curtin Sarawak’s Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) Student Branch and Programming Nation are actively wheeling out Tech Mentor Sarawak for the second year with the support of the university’s Leadership & Entrepreneurship Centre under the Department of University Life.
The project is being run by volunteers from the two academic clubs to help participants acquire skills in coding, 3D design, multimedia production and project management. The participants are trained in using embedded systems in their designs and are involved in practical activities that promote teamwork, entrepreneurship and innovation.
SAINS on Wheels – Tech Mentor Sarawak has two main components: Information and Communication Technology (ICT) awareness talks, which include an introduction to design thinking methodology by Programming Nation, followed by technical workshops run by IEEE Curtin Sarawak Student Branch on the basics of Arduino for selected participants.
According to Curtin Sarawak IEEE Student Branch academic advisor Dr. Garenth Lim, the workshop participants will delve deeper into design thinking methodology and put thinking skills presented in the awareness talks into practice.
They will form groups and be given scenarios in daily life that could be as simple as keeping a child occupied at dinner time or as complex as reducing our carbon footprint. The groups will identify inherent problems in the scenarios and come up with solutions which will be verified by end users.
Sample codes and circuit diagrams provided in the Arduino Kits will allow the participants to gain basic knowledge and programming skills using Arduino microcontrollers. They will also learn interfacing techniques with hardware and sensors to create embedded systems. The training will encourage them to modify codes and circuits to have a better understanding of the outcomes and to be creative with their codes.
It is anticipated that SAINS on Wheels – Tech Mentor Sarawak will be introduced to more than 10 schools in Miri-Bintulu with the help of project sponsors Keysight Technologies, Dreamcatcher, Yaw Teck Seng Foundation and Curtin Young Associates. To date, the volunteers have visited five schools – SMK St. Columba, SMK Dato Permaisuri, SMK Long Bedian, SMK Luar Bandar and SMK Chung Hua – and the remaining schools will be covered by early August.
“We’ve set ourselves up for a challenge this year. In the previous years, we reached out to about 200 students, but this year we’re planning to increase that number tenfold,” said University Life Manager Haslina Abdul Malek.
“From the workshops, we hope to identify exceptionally talented students as well as those who show very keen interest in solving problems through ICT,” added Haslina.
She said the high-potential students will be assigned to teams of three and mentored on a more intensive basis. 20 teams from different schools will then enter a pre-qualifying round at the Innovation Expo to be held during Curtin Sarawak’s Open Day this 26 September, during which they will have the opportunity to showcase their prototypes.
Following this, they will be judged and five of the best designs will be sent to Kuala Lumpur to compete in the Kuala Lumpur Engineering Science Fair 2015. A team from DreamCatcher will then provide further technical training to the five teams.
If they make it past the qualifying round, they will then move on to the finals of Young Innovate Malaysia, a national-level STEM-based design competition open to secondary school students in Malaysia.
Haslina and Dr. Lim both stated that participation in Young Innovate Malaysia would be a significant achievement not only for the schools involved but also the state of Sarawak as this is the first time East Malaysia is being represented in such competitions.
While school students are the main target groups, Tech Mentor Sarawak has had the pleasure of engaging with nine Teach For Malaysia (TFM) fellows earlier this month. The nine from various schools in Miri received guidance from experienced IEEE facilitators who introduced them to Arduino through an ‘Arduino 4 TFM’ Workshop.
Several of them who had no prior experience in programming were amazed at how a little kit could do so much and agreed that SAINS on Wheels was a great initiative to expose students to computer technology while building on innovative problem-solving skills.
“Our plan for next year is to extend the programme to primary school students too,” said Haslina.
Secondary and primary schools that are keen to be part of SAINS on Wheels – Tech Mentor Sarawak can contact Haslina at 085-443939 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Curtin Sarawak Leadership & Entrepreneurship Centre is also constantly looking out for project partners and sponsors and welcomes any inquiries from the public.
Find out more about SAINS on Wheels at www.facebook.com/sainsonWheels.