Author: Romney Kellogg

On October 13th, 2023, the Laboratory for Energy and Power Solutions (LEAPS) partnered with a local nonprofit organization, the Si Se Puede Foundation (SSPF), to host a STEM and robotics workshop for the students and neighboring FTC teams at the St Micheal’s Indian School (SMIS) located on the Diné (aka Navajo) reservation.

The SSPF is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to close the STEM divide between underserved populations within their local community by providing free and accessible STEM opportunities. The SSPF sponsors three FIRST robotics teams. Students and mentors from Degrees of Freedom and Binary Bots participated in the STEM workshop.

The STEM workshop was split into two parts, LEAPS member and Degrees of Freedom mentor Romney Kellogg led four energy workshops with the assistance of the Degrees of Freedom and Binary Bots students for approximately 50 SMIS students grades 5th-8th. The workshop activities included using oranges to power LED lights, a Build Your Own Microgrid game, and a solar panel demonstration. “Energy is a topic that not many people really understand, and for certain communities’ access to reliable electricity is scarce, so I am super grateful for the opportunity to be able to share what we do here at LEAPS in hopes of demystifying the topic of energy and electricity. Additionally, it was really awesome to have the robotics students help teach these workshops as they were able to connect with the SMIS students on a peer-to-peer level and overall, it was fun to see them engage with the content and hopefully better understand it themselves.” Romney stated.



The energy workshops were aimed at teaching the students basic electricity concepts such as current and voltage. In the orange activity students inserted copper and zinc strips into the oranges and measured the voltage of each of the oranges and the electromagnetic reaction the metals were having with the citric acid within the oranges. The activity also had an application portion and the students learned that by putting the oranges in series they could increase the voltage and power of multiple LEDs depending on how many oranges they stuck together. These concepts were then related back to how batteries work and can be used in energy systems. In the Build Your Own Microgrid activity walked through the basic steps of how to create a microgrid. They started off by picking energy loads that they would like to have in their house, and then they picked an area to live in. Based on where they lived, they then selected generation assets that best fit that area and learned how to balance their generation assets with their loads. For the solar panel demonstration, students learned how a solar panel can be affected by different factors such as the positioning of the panel and the amount of shading it gets.



James Schwartzberg, the Team Captain for the FTC team Binary Bots was especially intrigued by the energy workshops, “My experience in St. Michael’s was a unique experience that gave me more inspiration to go into tech careers, especially regarding energy. The workshops on energy and electricity were eye-opening, not only to the students but to me. Careers in energy and energy systems are something I did not consider, it intrigued me, and likely the students”.

For the second part of the day, the students on Degrees of Freedom and Binary Bots gave workshops to two local FTC teams. The workshops covered an introduction to FIRST robotics, and then they had content-specific workshops relating to the mechanical and programming aspects of the robot. These workshops included a CAD demonstration, a programming demonstration, and a Q&A session with the students.



Overall, the students were able to work together and promote a common theme within the FIRST community, coopetition meaning that everyone works together to support one another to be the best they can be regardless of if they are teammates or opponents. Andres Lara Trevino the Programming Lead on Degrees of Freedom stated “[the] SMIS STEM camp was a fun experience where I can learn and see a completely different culture and see different places also in my personal experience I like to share STEM with other people and help them reach [their] goals” and Elizabeth Seaton the team Captain of Degrees of Freedom had the following statement “[the] SMIS STEM camp provided a wonderful opportunity to work with my team to both learn about another culture and teach ours. It was an incredible experience that I hope to do again next year!”.

With the upcoming FTC competition already underway, Degrees of Freedom and Binary Bots are looking forward to competing with and cheering on the new FTC teams from the Navajo Nation. Dr Daniel Frank, the head mentor of Degrees of Freedom and former teacher at the St. Micheals Indian School reflected on the experience, “Having worked with St. Michael Indian School for over a decade, it holds a special place in my heart. And nothing brings me more joy than seeing the students of the Si Se Puede Foundation develop their own appreciation for the Diné community by having the opportunity to learn and work with the students from the Navajo Nation”.

LEAPS looks forward to future opportunities to connect with and support local communities.