Villanova Engineering Students Continue STEM Curriculum Development in Cambodia

Daniel Fetsko ’19 CE

Launching rockets was a favorite STEM activity for students at the Caramanico School in Cambodia.
Launching rockets was a favorite STEM activity for students at the Caramanico School in Cambodia.

Eight Villanova engineering students spent most of their winter break at the Trapaing Chress Lower Secondary School in Cambodia. The school is a part of the Caramanico Foundation, an organization that supports the education of children in Ratanakiri Province, a remote northeastern region of the country. The purpose of the trip was to continue the progress that Villanova has made in establishing Cambodia’s first science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum, which was formally accepted by the government in summer 2016. The country’s National Ministry of Education has now asked Villanova engineers to assist them in creating a STEM training program for teachers.

From December 28-January 13, the team of students led by Joel Nightingale, a graduate student on the international development track in Sustainable Engineering, had two main goals. First, implement a new teacher training program at the Caramanico School, and second, introduce the local students to the excitement of STEM by facilitating various fun projects. Nightingale explains that the teachers were taught using hands-on methods and demonstrations, after which they would pass on the lessons to their students while the Villanova team observed. He says, “This gave us a short feedback loop in which we could evaluate our training by observing how the teachers did just hours after we taught them.” To capture students’ interest, the Villanova team instructed them in catapult building, raft making and rocket launching, among other projects. After grading their work, winners were named and rewarded with the opportunity to attend the country-wide STEM competition in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Courtney Cona ’17 ME, a member of the Villanova team, said, “It was remarkable to see the children at the school develop such resourceful and impressive projects.”

One highlight of the trip was a visit by several members of the Ministry of Education. Mr. Or Siem, director of the Department of Curriculum Development, attended the STEM workshop and expressed his support for the activities and curriculum. He said, “The Villanova team conducts training with clear experiments that make the students understand well the lesson and have fun in studying.”  He thanked them for coming every year to train the students.

Moving forward, the Cambodia team is looking to further improve on the established curriculum and to continue to grow interest in STEM-related fields. As the engineering students eagerly await feedback from the Cambodian teachers who are now implementing their teaching techniques, plans are already being devised for summer 2017 and beyond.