Computer Science, Design Thinking, Education, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Robotics, STEM

Hologram Classes and Other Social Innovations from Latina Girls



Alondra, Diana, and Wendy’s Design Thinking poster for Hologram Classes for Social Innovation.

This past Fall, our middle school girls built low-cost robots we designed using Intel Galileo microcontrollers and also did some forward looking design thinking. One team of girls designed what they called, “Hologram Classes” complete with a working LED circuit and 3D model plastic prototype they made on their own (see picture above).  Their idea for their proposed invention was to create Hologram classes that would allow students to take classes from home that would be free, and wouldn’t require Bluetooth or Internet.  These girls believe this will be one way for more students from their community to graduate with bachelor degrees.

What a heartwarming breakthrough to see these girls believe that this was not only possible, but that they could begin to prototype the idea on their own.  Most of us would think that building a design that features holograms would not be possible for a Latina girl.  But that’s only because we have hidden biases that make us think that way.  Our five week session and this new one week session that was made possible by a grant from the Intel Foundation has given the tools for middle school girls to believe they they can help invent the future.  And more importantly they have a thirst for more STEM knowledge and demonstrated that they can “make” something to visualize their invention.


Papago Middle School Girls build and program low-cost robots from the HEIR Lab

In addition, these girls built low-cost robots that they programmed to operate autonomously using Intel Galileo arduinos, all in one week (see picture above). The low-cost robot kit that we designed for the students and this new one week curriculum was generously funded by the Intel Foundation.  Intel had provided me with Galileos for incorporation in my classes and they came in handy for this new design.  The robot design was completed by an African American student, Ronald Moore, from University of Pennsylvania that worked a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the Marquette University HEIR Lab this past summer.  This robot design is informing our NSF I-Corps efforts to create low cost humanoid robots for girls and boys to teach STEM learning.

With the Intel Foundation funding, we were able to expand our efforts to include boys.  We ran two concurrent sessions: one with approximately twenty girls and the other with a group mixed with boys and girls all from a Hispanic background.  While we are still analyzing the data, the initial observations show that even some of the kids that are considered “at-risk” were able to successfully complete the workshop and some were motivated to continue learning.  We also observed that in some cases, in the mixed boy-girl group, the boys attempted to “take over” the robot building exercises, while the girls in that group stood back and just observed.  But in the girl-only group, the girl’s were actively involved.  However, some of the girls that had been in the five week program before the one week program, held their own quite nicely and demonstrated leadership and technical competency even in the mixed boy-girl group.  Hence, the Hologram Classes.


Dr. Andrew Williams, Robin Baskin McNulty, Dr. Kimberly Scott, Papago Principal Jeff Geyer, teachers and the Middle School girls at our NSF and Intel Foundation sponsored camp.

Our current culturally responsive humanoid robotics curriculum, both the five week and the one week programs, were co-designed with Dr. Kimberly Scott and her team at Arizona State University as part of our NSF National Robotics Initiative educational research effort and the additional funding from Intel.  Dr. Scott leads the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology at Arizona State University.  Our program coordinator, Robin Baskin McNulty, did an excellent job of coordinating the hiring of the teachers, near peer mentors, and instructors for the day to day operations for both of our workshops.  She has continued to provide encouragement and mentoring for these students in having them involved in Maker fairs and tours of places such as Intel.  Angelicque Tucker Blackmon continues to be an invaluable resource for our educational assessment of our curriculum which we hope to make available to the public.  We are excited that planning for culturally responsive humanoid robotics workshops are being planned with African American participants in the Milwaukee area.  Thanks to the National Science Foundation National Robotics Initiative, I-Corps L, and Intel Foundation for making it possible for these boys and girls to become our next generation of technology social innovators.

About the author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is Professor and John P. Raynor, S.J., Distinguished Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Marquette University and the Principal Investigator for NSF National Robotics Initiative funded program, Co-Robots for CompuGirls, and the NSF I-Corps L program searching for a repeatable and scalable business model for low-cost humanoid robots at the HEIR Lab.








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