College of Engineering News Room
Bulls-EYE Mentoring Program Goes Online
Introduced in 2014, the Bulls-EYE Mentoring program successfully promotes STEM by delivering engineering problem solving to middle school students within a family-friendly environment. The program gives USF engineering undergraduates the opportunity to serve as program mentors tasked with assisting middle school students (mentees) who are at risk for low achievement, but may benefit from high expectations, life skills, and STEM learning. The resulting effort fosters the growth of both mentors and mentees.
Mechanical Engineering Instructor and Bulls-EYE Program Director, Jonathan Gaines, has watched the Bulls-EYE program help dozens of middle school students since its inception. He discussed the importance of introducing engineering to students that are at risk for low achievement.
“I modeled Bulls-EYE after real-life engineering design scenarios. The mentees share who they are as an identity and their mentors do the same thing to develop a strong relationship. This allows them to work together to accomplish a goal just as they would in a real-life engineering scenario. Once that relationship is established, the students enrolled in our program learn that they too can be excellent problem solvers and that realization is invaluable to the engineering community. Some of these students might become engineers themselves and help add more diversity to the field of engineering,” said Dr. Gaines.
Program participants would normally complete a summer program on USF campus, but due to challenges presented by COVID, Bulls-EYE was cancelled during the summer of 2020. This year presented a new challenge to the Bulls-EYE program by transitioning in-person learning to an online setting for all participants. Gaines discussed how the Bulls-EYE mentors and mentees adapted to the challenge of online learning.
“Our program relies heavily on building strong relationships between undergraduates and middle school students from the local community; figuring out how to do that online was challenging. We had to be intentional on how to structure the online projects, develop the design experience, and figure out how to build relationships of the mentors and mentees in an online setting. We chose a different Bulls-EYE theme every year. For example, we have taught students how to build robotic ground vehicles, robotic boats, instrumentation on kites, 3-D printing, and much more. This year, we decided to focus on a traditional robot theme for the online program, and mentees were able to pick up a robotics kit from USF. Once their teams chose a particular design, both mentors and mentees could build the same robot remotely via Zoom. It was wonderful seeing both undergraduates and students successfully collaborate online,” explained Dr. Gaines. This year will be the last year Bulls-EYE Mentoring will be offered. Gaines reflected on how proud he is regarding the success of the program and how it has positively influenced so many middle school students.
“I always share a story about why I became an engineer. A friend gave me a puzzle when I was a child and I obsessed over solving this puzzle. I was unable to solve it, but I loved the process of trying to figure it out. I was lucky to have someone in my life to tell me that engineering was the art of problem solving and this led me down the path of becoming an engineer. During the first year of Bulls-EYE, I gave that exact same puzzle to a young student who wasn’t doing great in middle school. She solved it within 45 minutes. The most rewarding part of Bulls-EYE was the ability for me to help young students discover their potential related to problem solving and encourage them to further develop that skill,” said Gaines.
In addition to helping middle school students, the Bulls-EYE program has positively influenced dozens of undergraduate engineering students since 2014. Mentoring students presented an opportunity for undergraduates to develop valuable leadership skills they can take with them into the workplace. Department of Chemical, Biological, and Materials Engineering undergraduate mentor, Arianna De Abreu Rodriguez, discussed how much she connected with her fellow mentors and her mentees.
“I think the mentors created an incredible bond. We helped each other with coding, and we built a strong connection during the program. It was also wonderful sharing stories with our mentees and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.”
Victor Abrego, Department of Industrial and Management Systems undergraduate student, also talked about how much he enjoyed serving as a mentor to middle school students.
“I truly enjoyed all of my time working with everyone. It’s hard to find a job where you are excited to come in to work every day, but this really was it for me. I couldn’t wait to work with my mentees online and start plugging away.
The best moment I think for the mentees was that near the end of the project, we had an issue with the servos that resulted with us changing our approach to the solution. When the mentees understood the problem and solution, they started working on it themselves without waiting to ask me for guidance. They basically built a robot from scratch with no instructions, something that they didn’t think they could do at the beginning of the camp,” said Victor.