supporting Cambridge public school students

Four Robots and a Pizza

Above, NetPal volunteer Anthony Adams walks through the Vecna parking lot with his student.

Jay Doyle, a senior embedded systems firmware engineer at Vecna Robotics, welcomed a pack of Rindge Ave Upper Campus (RAUC) seventh-graders to the company’s offices on Cambridgepark Drive on December 12, 2017. The visit was the start of a series of meet-ups between adult NetPals volunteers and public school seventh-graders that has continued into the spring.

Jay Doyle, an engineer at Vecna Robotics, acted as a tour guide at the visit that RAUC students, teachers, and Cambridge School Volunteers staff made to Vecna Technologies this year.
(Bethany Versoy for CPSD)

Cambridge School Volunteers’  NetPals program, serving every seventh-grader in three upper schools, creates learning experiences in close collaboration with local partners as part of an exploration of careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (sometimes known as STEM). Vecna Technologies, one of four companies participating in the RAUC Netpals Program and one of 16 corporate partners of CSV this year, is marking its fifth school year in the program this year.

Seventh-grade students at Rindge Avenue Upper School (RAUC), like their peers at Cambridge Street Upper School and Putnam Avenue Upper School, got to know their mentors (“NetPals”) who work in STEM fields this spring during visits to the workplace.
(Bethany Versoy for CPSD)

The cornerstone of the project is individual mentoring over a period of six months. At Vecna’s location in the Alewife district of the city—an area where 44 life sciences, clean energy, and high technology companies operate—the RAUC students met their NetPal mentors for the first time in person. As the pairs walked through the Vecna buildings, adults and students discussed what they saw, which included 1) a battlefield recovery robot, 2) a solar-powered vehicle, 3) a warehouse robot, and 4) a hospital robot. The group visited the electronics lab where circuit boards are built. In addition, Vecna staff demonstrated a remotely controlled robot.

Students from Rindge Avenue Upper School (RAUC) had a pizza lunch with their one-to-one mentors from Vecna Technologies after a tour of the company facilities.
(Bethany Versoy for CPSD)

The mentor-student pairs also visited a workspace devoted to Vecna employees’ personal projects, where they saw an electric motorcycle being made by hand by one of the Vecna employees “just for fun.”

The December 12 field trip to Vecna (and other companies, see below) followed a December 1 assembly for all of the upper school’s seventh-graders to learn about the four CSV partner companies who would provide the one-to-one mentors this school year. Students asked thoughtful questions, such as “Will the robots [designed by Vecna Technologies] make people lazy?”  In response, Nathan Towne-Smith, Director of Technical Services at Vecna Technologies, explained that the robot he was displaying could do jobs that are not safe for humans, including clearing mines.

Pizza at Bertucci’s was the final part of the field trip, with other classmates and their mentors from GCP Applied Technologies joining the group. Mentors and students got to know each other further over lunch.

MEANWHILE, on the same day:

  • CSV Program Coordinator Meg Ramsdell and RAUC Science Teacher Jay Mahoney accompanied another RAUC student group to GCP Applied Technologies, where, after a welcome by Cheryl Hanlon, the mentor-student pairs met and toured the facility. GCP Applied Technologies creates products for the construction industry.
  • CSV NetPals Director Nadia Chamblin-Foster and RAUC staff Dawn Dunleavy accompanied 31 students by bus to meet their mentors at Cambridge Systematics, an employee-owned consultancy firm, located at Station Landing, Medford. Cambridge Systematics site coordinators greeted students and accompanied them through the company’s security system. Students toured the newly designed offices, learning about the company’s work in transportation technologies and consulting, and getting to know mentors. The tour was followed by pizza at nearby Pizzeria Regina.
  • RAUC Math Teacher Chris Devlin and CSV Program Coordinator Analía Ivanier accompanied 22 students to Oracle, a multinational corporation that leads in the technology of cloud computing, to meet their mentors. The tour of Oracle included a call center, pizza lunch, a presentation by staff, and time dedicated to students getting to know their mentors—Oracle employees who volunteer as NetPals.
A trip to Novartis in Kendall Square by Cambridge Street Upper School students included hands-on work with the one-to-one mentors they had just met. Pipettes and different types of containers were used to demonstrate the ways that accurate measurements are ensured in lab experiments. (Kim Goldstein for CSV)

Logos of four companies Vecna, Oracle, GCP, Cambridge Systematics, and the logo of the Rindge Avenue Upper School.

This year, 261 seventh graders at RAUC, Putnam Avenue Upper School, and Cambridge Street Upper School are matched with adult NetPals from 13 companies through the Cambridge School Volunteers program. All Netpals mentors correspond by supervised email with students regarding career pathways in STEM, their work in science class, and their Science Expo projects. NetPal mentors are attending science fairs at the upper schools this spring.  Mentors provide an authentic audience for the students as they develop their experiments and presentations for the fairs.

“Goodbye” emails will end the NetPals program in May.