Proyecto Interchange

Proyecto Interchange students at Purdue, 2016

A group of nine young Colombian students from public schools in Medellin came to Purdue in July to participate in the Gifted Educational Research Institute (GERI) Camp 2016. Their visit is the result of a joint effort between Ruta N, the Colombian Student Association at Purdue, and CPI. These children were selected from a group of over 2000 students who participated in Proyecto Interchange and the Ruta N robotics program in 2015-2016. This initiative to bring high school students from Medellin to Purdue emerged in 2013. It was the result of the collaboration between Purdue professor Carol Handwerker, Alejandro Roldan, former cultural manager at Biblioteca España in Medellin, and Carolyn Percifield, Director of Strategic Planing at Purdue's College of Engineering. The initial goal of Proyecto Interchange was to introduce exciting nanotechnology and science topics to middle school and high school students from Santo Domingo Savio, a low-income neighborhood in Medellin.

After meeting in Colombia with Roldan, Dr. Handwerker invited several Colombian graduate students to teach nanotechnology workshops to a group of children from local schools in Medellin. The purpose was to increase knowledge in nanoscience, and to encourage youngsters to pursue university studies in STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Math). The workshops were held at Biblioteca España through video-conferences that also received support from Professor Franklin Jaramillo at Universidad de Antioquia, and his students.

After a successful first implementation, Alejandro Roldan visited Purdue during the summer of 2013, and talked to members of the Colombian Student Association at Purdue (CSAP). He invited them to get involved in Proyecto Interchange. In the fall of 2013, CSAP designed and taught a new series of nine workshops to an extended group of children. This time, they included new topics on different scientific areas, from agriculture to civil engineering.

Roldan then began to work at Ruta N, an innovation center in Medellin. Ruta N invited Alejandro to lead the process of expanding Proyecto Interchange to all neighborhoods in the city. The first group of students who completed their training in 2013 was invited to Purdue in the summer of 2014 to participate in the GERI. GERI is an internationally recognized camp for gifted children. During the two-week camp, they interacted with gifted kids from different countries, while CSAP members mentored the students, serving as translators, organizing science workshops, and guiding lab tours. Among other fun workshop activities, students flew the flight simulator at Purdue airport, visited Birck nanotechnology Center, and performed experiments in concrete in the civil engineering lab.

By the fall of 2014 the program had become a big success. There were now 500 students from public schools in Medellin who participated in a four-month Proyecto Interchange program coordinated by Ruta N. Students developed a scientific or technology project, and interacted with at least one graduate student from different universities in the US. Besides Purdue, MIT and Harvard graduates also joined the initiative. The purpose of this interaction is to inspire these young minds to engage in scientific studies, and perhaps to consider a future in academia.

Once again, five students who participated in these activities and created the best project were awarded a visit to Purdue for the 2015 GERI camp. The story was repeated during the fall of 2015, when another 500 students enrolled in Proyecto Interchange. Nine of them arrived at Purdue in July, as a kind of inspirational reward for their engagement during the project. We welcome them and wish them a long career of success!

Thanks to Camilo Vieira, Carolina Vivas, and Laura Mosquera for their collaboration in the documentation of this article.

Proyecto Interchange students with Alejandro Roldán during a video conference with Purdue at Biblioteca España in 2013

Proyecto Interchange students at one of the workshops led by Colombian Purdue graduate student Camilo Vieira at Purdue in 2014

Proyecto Interchange students during a video conference at Parque Explora in 2015

Proyecto Interchange students at Professor Carol Handwerker's house during their visit to Purdue in 2015

Proyecto Interchange students accompanied by Purdue professor and graduate students, as well as Ruta N and Parque Explora staff during their visit to Purdue in 2016

Proyecto Interchange students at one of the workshops led by Colombian Purdue graduate student Andrés Díaz at Purdue in 2016

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