To help fulfill the mission of the Information Sciences and Technology Institute (ISTI), the OUKS Tech Club was started over two years ago to create an environment where students can learn more about information sciences through new technology, student engagement and community outreach. One goal of the Institute’s mission was missing, however – to achieve that environment across all OU campuses.
That problem has since been solved. Six months ago, a Tech Club was also started on the OUAZ campus, and on December 10, 2022, the two clubs came together to participate in a Sci-Tech Festival in the City of Surprise, AZ – the first collaboration of its kind across OU’s two residential campuses. The partnership was made possible by a $10,000 Future Together grant from American Eagle Outfitters, which OUKS Tech Club President Isidora Hrnjak applied for. Approximately $4,000 of the grant money was used to purchase robotics equipment for the Festival; the equipment was then donated to the new Arizona club to help get it off the ground. The remaining money was used to fly seven of the OUKS Tech Club members to Arizona for the event and to house and feed both tech clubs while there.
The annual Sci-Tech Festival is designed to celebrate science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) in the community by offering interactive exhibits and demonstrations to showcase the exponential growth of technology in our society and the careers and opportunities it offers young people. At the Festival, students of all ages took advantage of robotics and makerspace teams that provided hands-on STEAM learning activities. City of Surprise police drones and SWAT robots were also on display, as were the City’s water conservation meters, hydrants and utility trucks, along with a City fire truck and fire/medical team.
Jaime Fuentes is an associate professor of Computer Science and MIS at Ottawa University and academic advisor for the OUKS Tech Club, which currently boasts 42 members. He was thrilled about the impact of the event on OU’s students. “We could just have used the grant here in Kansas,” he said, “but the OUAZ Tech Club is new, with only 12 members, and they needed resources and ideas and activities. That’s why we decided to do this project in their back yard and demonstrate that we are One University. People at the festival saw us as one club – they didn’t know which students were from which campus. They just knew they all belonged to the Ottawa University.”
The concept of One University comes from OU’s strategic plan adopted in June. “The three components of the academic mission of Ottawa University are to elevate the student experience and outcomes, ensure belonging, and achieve One University,” explained Director of Major Gifts Wynndee Lee, who collaborated with Hrnjak on the Future Together grant application. “The collegiality that came out of the two tech clubs and their collaboration on the festival were great steps in achieving that. One group got to travel, the other got to get equipment and bolster their new club, and both wanted to encourage youth to pick these fields. It was a win all around.”
The students fully agreed. “Meeting the OUKS Tech Club members in person was awesome,” said OUAZ Tech Club President Emery Outin. “I think we really bonded and appreciated each other during that time. They did most of the organization, we helped provide things they needed, but all of us participated in the presentation of our project.”
As the only university represented at the Festival, OU was in a unique position to stand out. “We were able to reach out to the different schools in the Surprise community and build partnerships with teachers and school officials to help bring STEAM into the community,” said Nicholas Wolfe, OUKS Tech Club vice president. “The other goal was to make STEAM look fun and engage kids to pursue a career in STEAM, and I think we did that.”
Bob Doran, program manager for e-sports at OUAZ, attended the Festival and was impressed by what he saw. “Having the Kansas and Arizona Tech Clubs team up for the Sci-Tech event was a great way to promote ‘One University’ while doing community outreach,” he said. “The City of Surprise was grateful for our presence at the event, and I lost count of how many people in the community thanked OUAZ for being a valuable asset to the City.”
At the Festival, OU’s Tech Clubs guided students in the programming and coding of RVR+ mobile robots that are relevant for kids of all ages because they are adaptable for novice and experienced coders alike. “I really think that we did a great job,” said Hrnjak. “Our robots were stars among the kids and among the adults as well. I think this collaboration really made a great impact on both clubs and motivated us for even bigger events.”
Throughout the year, the OUKS Tech Club currently conducts a variety of activities. It is these types of events and ideas that the KS club shared with the AZ club and that they hope to collaborate on in the future. For example, the Kansas club hosts one-day STEAM camps for area elementary, middle school and high school students using the RVR+ robots; visits area schools to do demonstrations with robots and drones; and hosts sci-tech activities for OU students, such as playing Minecraft or Battle Bots.
“We have already been invited to participate in next year’s Festival,” said Fuentes. “And we plan to have members from the OUAZ Tech Club come to the Kansas campus in the spring to help us put on our STEAM camps for area students, or other activities we develop. This is just the start of a great partnership that we hope will unite our students as part of One University and promote a strong academic tradition in science and technology.”
To further promote the connection between students of the two tech clubs and campuses, Fuentes designed a new OU logo that features the gold of OUKS Braves and the orange of the OUAZ Spirit. Look for it in an OU bookstore near you in the coming months!