St Mary’s College STEM club takes top spot

St Mary's College IT Teacher, Keith Burkette shares a proud moment with the winners of the 2019 bmobile Code Challenge (Secondary Schools Category), Aidan Pinard, Trey Hackshaw and Joshua Noel.
St Mary's College IT Teacher, Keith Burkette shares a proud moment with the winners of the 2019 bmobile Code Challenge (Secondary Schools Category), Aidan Pinard, Trey Hackshaw and Joshua Noel.

The recently concluded bmobile Connect Technology Conference continues to make an indelible mark on many significant sectors of the society, including fostering TT's STEM education programmes and initiatives.

The STEM Club of St Mary's College, Port-of-Spain has captured the secondary schools category in the thrilling bmobile Code Challenge. STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.

Communications solutions provider, bmobile, which has always been at the fore in nurturing talent among the youth, has long recognised that STEM pervades not only our daily lives but the entire society.

“At bmobile, we are committed to exposing students to STEM by creating opportunities, like our Code Challenge, that allow them to explore STEM-related concepts while nurturing their creative and entrepreneurial spirits. In developing the competition, we were mindful of the younger tech-talent and were keen on providing an avenue for these future tech entrepreneurs to begin making a mark. We understand that with the right support, today’s hobby can be transformed into a successful career in a STEM field in the future,” said Marsha Caballero, TSTT’s senior manager Corporate Communications.

With the support of their IT teacher Keith Burkette, CIC students Trey Hackshaw, Aidan Pinard and Joshua Noel designed a convenient computer programme, called a Chatbot, to relieve the load on call centre Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) by answering routine questions.

This is the first time the school has entered any such competition as the STEM Club was formed just last year.

St Mary's College IT teacher and STEM Club coordinator, Keith Burkette.

Expressing profound gratitude for the exciting opportunity Burkette noted that the competition has further stimulated the quest for learning on the part of the students.

"When the boys heard about the competition they immediately jumped on it. Technology is everywhere and we cannot escape it, not even in our homes. The bmobile Code Challenge provided an excellent platform to get this message across as there are very few opportunities for students in the Caribbean to really explore STEM-related avenues," Burkette stated.

He noted that the competition has also armed students with key components to enrich their studies.

"Their exposure to the competition has resulted in the students being more focused and dedicated towards their studies. The traditional class room is ‘chalk and talk’ but bmobile's competition has revolutionised that. Students are excited to try out new problems and see how the pieces all fit together. It also provided a fantastic nurturing space and because of winning more students are eager to join the STEM Club," Mr. Burkette added.

On explaining how the concept of the Chatbot arose, Pinard 16, of Form Six said he used his own experiences regarding challenging customer support services to transform this into a virtual assistant programme.

"We coded in the information into the Chatbot which then allows the user to ask simple questions like where is the nearest bmobile location or what is bmobile's email address. The Chatbot also assists with trouble-shooting issues. In instances where it cannot give responses it will then advise the user to go to the nearest bmobile store at the relevant hours to seek additional help," Pinard stated.

A technology enthusiast, he said the competition has provided a golden opportunity to put his knowledge to use.

"I always knew I could do many things with technology but I didn't have any reason to actually go further until bmobile provided that avenue through the competition. It provided a space where I got the chance to apply some of my knowledge. The competition also helped me hone my work ethic because we had two days to finish everything as opposed to school where the time period is longer. The win is definitely an incentive for me and my peers to do more in this field and continue learning," Pinard added.

Hackshaw 15, of Form Three said when he initially entered the competition he, like his friends, was a bit apprehensive considering that there were also mature participants.

But with the guidance and expertise from Gerard Thomas, Code Challenge partner and CEO of Launch Rockit, a non-profit organisation that provides support for Caribbean startups, the boys soon felt comfortable and confident.

"At first we were not really expecting to win but we were very motivated once everything kicked off. The bmobile team helped us to keep going and we persevered. Not only did they provide an enabling environment but we learnt about entrepreneurship. We didn't really know much about this because we were more focused on the theoretical side of technology," he added.

Noel, also 15, of Form Five since having skipped a year at school, said he could now boast that his capabilities have been further enhanced, even into the professional sphere.


"St Mary’s College STEM club takes top spot"

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