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Inspiring and Teaching Using Robotics

Posted on Wednesday, May 31st, 2017 at 3:09 pm.

Jody Mayo, Communications Manager, Alliance Abroad Group
A version of this story was originally published on Alliance Abroad

Teacher and Robotics coach Wilmar Lee (left) with sixth grade students holding mobile robots

Wilmar Lee is a robotics fanatic and she’s passing her infectious passion to middle school students in Houston, Texas.  She is a Filipino citizen participating in a J-1 visa teacher exchange program.  Back home, on the other side of the world, Wilmar taught math, computer and MAPEH (Music, Art, PE, & Health) classes for 12 years. She was also an innovator and proponent of using robotics as a way to engage students and promote science, technology, engineering, and math studies.

Wilmar started a robotics program in the Philippines that qualified to participate in the World Robotics Olympiad 2017 in India. Her team ranked third out of the 100 participating schools. Through the robotic project that she started at Energized for Excellence Academy Middle School in Houston, Wilmar wants to bring the same enthusiasm, participation and results.

“It’s a blessing to be here in Houston. I love the students, community and school,” Wilmar said, humbly. She considered her Filipino colleagues as a family, which has made the experience even more welcoming. Wilmar is also appreciative of the support from the school principal, Arlene Kho, who was not only very receptive to the idea of starting a robotics club, but ensured that it was funded.  The voluntary after-school program has been so successful, that the school plans to offer robotics as an elective and to invest in more robotics kits to support the program.

students building robots

Sixth grade students building and programming robots

Besides sponsoring the robotics club, Wilmar teaches sixth grade math.  Although she holds a doctorate degree in educational management, Wilmar confesses that her math teaching skills were a bit rusty.  She credits Principal Kho, also from the Philippines, for helping her with any curriculum-related challenges.  Wilmar commends her principal for being open to “innovation and technology,” which is important for American schools today. According to major studies, U.S. students aren’t keeping pace with their peers around the world. Recently released data from international math and science assessments indicate that “U.S. students continue to rank around the middle of the pack, and behind many other advanced industrial nations.”

Robotics is a great way to teach math, technology and science while challenging students to use problem-solving, analytic and creative thinking skills, explains Wilmar. She laughs when she says that some of the students are so enthusiastic and engrossed in creating their robots, they don’t want to leave school.  The word about the program has spread locally, and students are increasingly applying to the academy.

Robots are replacing “dangerous, dirty and dull jobs.” Wilmar believes that robots are a part of the future and will be used for dangerous tasks like diffusing bombs or window cleaning on high-rise buildings; both are extremely risky jobs. Robotics are helping in other ways too, like helping elderly people with vision problems stay safe and avoid collisions or falls with a robotics sensor in a walking cane that vibrates or buzzes.

Student shows off robotics equipment

Student shows off robotics equipment

Wilmar has high aspirations for her robotics program, and envisions that she’ll take her Houston students to the World Robotics Olympiad someday.  She is excited to share her skills and dreams about her students changing the world and helping their country. Wilmar hopes her middle school students will become inventors, scientists, engineers, or socially-conscience entrepreneurs, using robots to make the world a better and safer place.

“This teaching (J-1) program has been an amazing experience,” she says. Wilmar loves learning about American culture and sharing information about her own culture with students, colleagues, the school, and the local community.  She uses the word “blessed” frequently when she talks about her cultural and teaching experience and about the people who have enabled the robotics program and supported her journey.

It seems pretty clear that Wilmar’s students and school are equally fortunate to have a teacher who finds incredible satisfaction enriching, challenging and expanding young minds. Wilmar is clearly making a mark and helping Houston students head down a path of innovation, discovery and positive change in the world.

Categories: Program Spotlight

About Karen Ward

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

Karen Ward

Karen Ward has been with the Department of State and the Exchange Visitor Program for over thirty years. Karen joined Private Sector Exchange as the Director of the Office of Private Sector Exchange Designation in December 2014. She previously had worked on all aspects of the Exchange Visitor Program, including program analyst for the secondary school student, teacher, post-secondary student, research scholar, trainee and intern categories and served as the Division Chief of the Private Sector Programs Division for three years. She spent three years as a Policy Analyst and a Senior Compliance Office within the Office of Exchange Coordination and Compliance. She has extensive knowledge on program management, the regulatory process, form development, and SEVIS administration.

Karen, a native of Maryland, is a career federal civil servant with more than 30 years of service, working mostly in the areas of international exchanges and operation management. She enjoys mentoring and volunteering in her community.