Identify a problem and figure out a way to fix it. For senior Jesus Perez, this is the overarching theme of UC Merced’s biannual Innovate to Grow showcase, and his project, the Mobile Maker Lab.
About 30 teams from Engineering Service Learning (ENGSL) and Capstone Innovation Design Clinic (IDC) will present their projects at the fall version of the event Friday, Dec. 14, in the California Room on campus.
Perez, a mechanical engineering major, is the project manager of the Mobile Maker Lab, a vehicle that can provide access to a STEM-related educational experience for K-12 students in areas where subject material may be lacking.
Perez has led his ENGSL teammates through the concept phase of the Mobile Maker Lab this semester, from deciding which grade level to target first — they decided on third grade — to the layout of the vehicle. The assembling of the Mobile Maker Lab will extend into next semester.
“Some people have to wait until they graduate and get a job to make a difference, but for us, we get a head start,” Perez said. “It not only helps us gain the experience, but it helps us give back to the community.”
Other projects to be showcased at Innovate to Grow include bringing a children’s museum to Merced County, designing a device that effectively separates debris from the field run in almond harvesting, and developing a swaddle for premature infants with neonatal jaundice that can provide the same UV light provided by a bili light. E&J Gallo Winery, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Valley Children’s Hospital are a few of the organizations who have partnered with the students for their projects.
Once complete, the Mobile Maker Lab will travel to county fairs and schools, among other destinations. The Merced County Office of Education (MCOE) plans to use the Mobile Maker Lab within the county’s 21 districts and has provided guidance as Perez and the team piece the project together.
Rosanna Ayers has worked with the Mobile Maker Lab team through her role as coordinator for science and STEM for MCOE. She said the decision to become involved with the project stems from superintendent Steve M. Tietjen’s vision to seek collaborative partners to help change outcomes for students in the county. Ayers said they are excited to see the Mobile Maker Lab come to life, led by students who can reflect on their own STEM experiences for guidance.
“I think it is really powerful because as college students, they are well aware of their thought processes in high school and even middle school,” Ayers said. “They’ve been really open about taking a look at their educational journey alongside the lens of ‘how can I help someone else?’”
Though Innovate to Grow has a competitive aspect to it, with a cash prize available for the winning team, Perez said the goal of the showcase extends beyond first place.
“I’m more focused on the impact that it will have, so win or lose, that doesn’t really matter to me,” the Merced native said. “We aren’t the only team, so all of these projects are going to have an impact, and that means the most to me.”