Engineering professor promotes STEM education in Mexico

Peter Schubert teaches students in Mexico.View print quality image
Electrical and computer engineering professor Peter Schubert worked with middle school students in Mexico City to build model satellites. Photo courtesy of Peter Schubert

Among his many research activities, electrical and computer engineering professor Peter Schubert discovered that children tend to forge their career paths as early as age 13.

When he visited Mexico City in July for the 2019 International Conference on Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, one of the IUPUI researcher's goals was to work with middle school students in bilingual schools. Schubert wanted to introduce some of his recent work to the students, in turn lighting the circuit of a STEM education and, later, a career in engineering.

Working with members of the IU Mexico Global Gateway, Schubert was part of a workshop where he led the students in building model "satellites" while presenting his recent lunar-based solar energy work. The event was held in Mexico City's Universum, the nation's largest science museum.

"We asked the custodian if we could hang these mock satellites from the museum's ceiling," Schubert recalled. "Then the students could say, 'We have our satellites hanging in the science museum.'"

Mexico City studentsView print quality image
Forty middle school students' interest in space, engineering and renewable energy increased this summer through Peter Schubert's workshop with IU Mexico Gateway in Mexico City. Photo courtesy of Peter Schubert

The Mexico City trip bolstered the relationship between the IU Mexico Gateway, the School of Engineering and Technology, and the Richard G. Lugar Center for Renewable Energy. Schubert strengthened contacts with the National Autonomous University of Mexico and researchers from Rotoplas, a chemical engineering company in Mexico City, while perhaps inspiring a boy or girl to study engineering at IUPUI.

Question: Did you have previous research experience in Mexico?

Peter Schubert: I went to an international space conference in Mexico in 2016, published three papers there and learned about the Mexican space program. I had a paper accepted for this summer's conference, so I went there again.

Q: How involved were these hands-on satellite models?

PS: They were of my design. I did all of the research to find out the components. We had a contribution from the IUPUI Office of International Affairs. We had an offer to help from the School of Engineering and Technology Dean David Russomanno, and the Lugar Center contributed some as well.

We brought in materials like glue sticks, electronics, LEDs and batteries. The main components were a solar panel and a mini diode. We had to size them so that you could hold them in a room light and get that diode to light. All nine groups got their LED to light up.

Q: How did the students react after their space experience?

PS: The kids were so worked up and so excited about all of this -- so energized that they didn't want to leave. We were cleaning up, and they were still there, wanting to ask more questions.

Q: What are your thoughts after working with the IU Mexico Gateway?

PS: From that event, if the gateway can stay in touch with those students longitudinally and see how that program has an effect on their career choices, this could be something we encapsulate and reproduce in other locations.

Q: What's coming up for your work at IUPUI?

PS: We're finalists for the International Space Solar Power Student Competition. The semifinals were in June in Washington, D.C. The finals are in late October. Our team advanced to the finals. The work for this competition was turned into two conference papers that we submitted, and on Aug. 18, we got acceptance on both of those. So now these students will become published authors, and we hope to do well in this final competition, which has up to $10,000 in prize money.

Q: What's new with Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, which you advise?

PS: There's a NASA competition from the National Institute of Aerospace. This year, they're looking for a business case for activities within the Earth moon system. We plan to apply to that with the same team that made the lunar base model this summer, and we're going to build a new concept on how we can mine resources on the moon to help with renewable energy here on Earth.