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A second-year student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) made an impact amongst the students of Pembrokeshire College by delivering sessions focused on cutting edge robotic technology.

Rovi Porter, an influential 19-year-old from Hawaii, is currently studying Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Rovi recently embarked on a three-week placement at Pembrokeshire College working with a variety of students from Enhanced IT, A-levels, Enhanced Mechanical Engineering and Construction.

A research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts MIT was founded in 1861 and since then the university has played a key role in the development of many aspects of modern science, engineering, mathematics, and technology, and is widely known for its innovation and academic excellence, making it one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the world.

Through a project called MIT Global Teaching Labs in Wales 2020 (brought to educational institutes by Equal Education – a leading education recruitment, training and higher education provider, endorsed by the Welsh Government), Pembrokeshire College was able to collaborate with MIT in bringing Rovi to Pembrokeshire where learners benefitted from her interactive sessions which focused on programming and autonomous technology through the use of dynamic robotics. Rovi also visited partnering schools, Ysgol Bro Gwaun and Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi, where she inspired pupils to design, build, program and test their robots as part of Pembrokeshire’s First Lego League tournament.

Liam Rahman, Director at Equal Education, explained how successful this project has been for the College as well as the partnering schools: “It’s been a pleasure working with Pembrokeshire College to bring the MIT Global Teaching Labs to fruition at the College. Rovi’s placement was a tremendous success as a result of the strong partnership working that is evident within the College’s forward-thinking leadership team and across its departments. In particular, Pembrokeshire College worked extremely effectively to expand the reach of this impactful STEM programme across the county through working with Ysgol Bro Gwaun and Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi. Equal Education would like to congratulate Pembrokeshire College on this success!”

Rovi’s structured timetable to meet and work alongside students allowed them to experience the world of robotics under themes of: Inspiration through Demonstration – by capturing their enthusiasm through demonstrations and showcasing what can be achieved with modern software; Confidence through Consolidation – which provided a week of consolidation through learners improving knowledge and practising skills within programming and coding techniques; Application through Competition – leading to learners showcasing the skills that they have acquired in the various sessions by competing in a cross College competition: the ‘Rovi Porter Robotic Challenge 2020.’

Leading the way on innovation and building bridges with educational providers both locally and internationally, Paul Robinson, Head of Humanities Arts Sports & Services described the benefits Rovi’s presence had on students over a wide range of subject areas: “The impact of the teaching programme delivered by Rovi in association with MIT and Welsh Government to our Computer Science learners has been inspirational. The skills that learners developed were celebrated in the first cross college “Rovi Porter Robotics Challenge” with over sixty learners competing. Programming skills are a key priority area for development within Computer Science programmes and will equip our learners to enter one of the fastest growing sectors in the Welsh economy. In addition, Rovi was able to instil in our learners an effervescent enthusiasm for learning and proved that realising academic dreams and ambitions is possible with application and tenacity.”

Building and adapting skills ready for the robotics competition students expressed how Rovi got the students thinking differently about career paths and how technology is changing.

Nikki, an Enhanced IT student, explained how much she had enjoyed taking part in Rovi’s sessions, “During our lessons with Rovi she taught us how to code the robots using an app called MBlock. Over various lessons we broke down the code to learn more about its functionality and during these lessons with Rovi we coded the robots by ourselves before taking part in a Robotics Competition. The competition was a really enjoyable experience and tied together all we had learned over the past three weeks with Rovi. The hard work paid off as our team won too! Until Rovi came along I had never coded a robot before so that was new for me and I really enjoyed the experience. It has given me a head start, not only within my course but ideas as to what careers I could go into.”

For the competition, students were grouped into teams named after Hawaiian Islands; Hawaii, Kauai, Oahu, Niihau, Lanai and Maui. The teams were then required to carry out four tasks with their newly programmed robots; a three-minute Football Match; Slalom Relay; Parking Lot and Line Following. Over sixty students from across the College came together to compete for the title of ‘Rovi Porter Robotics Challenge Winners 2020.’

Eva Rees, Head of A-level at Pembrokeshire College, commented: “It was a pleasure to welcome Rovi to Pembrokeshire College and to witness how she worked with our students to inspire and instruct them in programming. She accomplished an incredible amount in the three weeks that she was with us, across a variety of disciplines, including work with our partner schools at Ysgol Bro Gwaun and Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi. For us in Pembrokeshire, on the Western tip of South West Wales, it is so important for our learners to meet and work with instructors and students like Rovi, who are succeeding in their chosen fields at internationally renowned institutions such as MIT. It has been a fantastic opportunity for all involved.”

Hosting the competition and overseeing the students taking part, Rovi reflected on her journey to Pembrokeshire: “My impression of Wales was that it was rural but a tight knit community. It is something that I really enjoyed as the people were very welcoming and made me feel at home. Seeing the students’ bond and work together on programming and debugging their robots was one of my favourite parts of this three-week programme. One skill that I will definitely take back with me, is the adaptability and flexibility that a teacher needs when things don’t go according to plan. I had an amazing time at Pembrokeshire College, whether it was troubleshooting the robot with students or getting to know the other teachers. I wish to thank all those who made this possible. I will not forget how welcomed and invited I felt.”

Before returning back to the States Rovi concluded her trip by visiting many local sightseeing hotspots across Pembrokeshire from St David’s Cathedral to Aberaeron and the scenic Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.