Howard University Introduces D.C Kids to Robot and NASA Scientists and Engineers

Third-graders, college, and high-school students, mingled with NASA scientists and robot engineers at Howard University STEM forum

Spelman students displaying their humanoid robot 'spice'
Image: file

Howard University kicked-off its first STEM Best Practices forum last week at the new Howard University Interdisciplinary Research Building in Washington D.C., as part of the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation (NNPA) of the U.S.A. and NNPA’s 2016 Black Press Week.

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Eighty-two young people of color from Washington D.C.-area schools were at the event to take part in hands-on demonstrations of robotics and drone technology.

Dr. Anthony K. Wutoh, provost of Howard University, led the event. He welcomed NNPA President, Dr. Benjamin Chavis; NNPA Chairman, Denise Roark-Barnes; and Al McFarlane, chair of the NNPA Foundation as well as a host of engineers and scientists.

Leading engineers with the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and a member of the American National Academy of Inventors (NAI) provided hands-on robotics assembly and demonstrations to the student scholars, many of whom were witnessing this technology in person for the first time.

The experts proving the demonstrations included Dr. Thomas Mensah, a fiber optics inventor; the NNPA Foundation’s ‘STEM Research 2020” Ambassador; NAI fellow; and one of its only three black members to hold more than seven invention patents.

Also, at the event was Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, group lead and robotics engineer at the NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory; fellow of the United Kingdom’s IET and the Royal Aeronautical Society; and a designer of the Mars Rover Lander. Dr. Trebi-Ollennu’s research focuses on planetary rovers.

Dr. Edward Tuntsel, designer of the Mars Lander Robot at NASA and an alumnus of Howard University, also lent his expertise to the event. Dr. Tuntsel is also senior roboticist at John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

Fernando Hernandez, the director at Microsoft Supplier Diversity, who created Microsoft’s $2 billion supplier diversity strategic three-year plan, and Bill Blackwelder, president at Delta Southern Space UAS, a company specializing in unmanned aerial systems and platforms in the agricultural industry, were also in attendance.

“It was exciting to see these young students, some of the children in their third grade, interact with scientists, engineers, and inventors, as well as older students from the all-female Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia […] who placed third in a national robotics competition at Microsoft in November 2014,” said Dr. Mensah.

“The Spelman ladies were on hand to demonstrate a humanoid robot they had built which is nicknamed ‘Spice.” The high schoolers were also impressed by the commercial drone shown by Bill Blackwelder.”