“As a volunteer, I think
I’ve become more positive,
open and empathetic,”
says Pelin Tayanç, a
board member at BKD,
helping kids appreciate

Note: As Engineers Week approaches, February 19 – 25, leading to the Global Marathon by and for women engineers (March 8 – 9) and the Global Day of the Engineer (April 5), the IBM On Demand Community wanted to get an update from an IBM volunteer engaged in STEM activities.

In 2015, the IBM On Demand Community (ODC) told the story of Istanbul-based Pelin Tayanç, a software senior sales specialist for IBM Digital Sales, who for several years has volunteered with Bilim Kahramanları Derneği (BKD; the “Association of Science Heroes”) in Turkey; the organization is making Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) more approachable and meaningful for children throughout the country.

Among its initiatives, BKD uses FIRST LEGO League (FLL) to engage and excite young people about science and engineering. In FLL, kids work in teams to research a real world issue such as food safety or recycling, develop a solution, and then design, build, and program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS technology.

For some teams, as Pelin tells us in the interview below, FLL can take them to places they only dreamed about.

On Demand Community: Hello Pelin, are you still a board member at BKD? How has the experience been?

Pelin: Yes, it’s been an honor to continue as a volunteer and board member at BKD. It’s terrific to be part of a team that organizes programs to introduce and teach children, youth and disadvantaged groups to participate in the basic and applied sciences. To see the eyes of the children twinkle for science and technology makes me feel larger than life! It’s also terrific to work at a company like IBM that supports volunteers so much.

ODC: What are BKD’s priorities moving forward?

Pelin: At BKD, our participants have grown every year, and in the 2016-2017 school year we expect to reach 5,000 in our area, and over 16,000 across 50 cities. Our goal and priority is to expand to 81 cities and reach about 100,000 students within the next ten years. To help do that, we’ve added FLL Jr. for younger kids, the World Robot Olympiad for teenagers and awards recognition for young adult scientists.

ODC: Do you still serve as a judge at the FLL competitions?

Pelin: Well, now I have moved to being a Judge Advisor where I recruit judges from IBM and other technology companies, and serve as a trainer and mentor to prepare them for the events. It’s a wonderful opportunity to inspire my fellow IBMers to participate not only as judges at FLL, but also to use their technical skills to support the operations of BKD, such as helping with the design and development of our web applications and our infrastructure. And as volunteers, some of my colleagues have had the chance to travel to FLL events in the US, Denmark, all over the world, and share their professional skills.

ODC: Do you have any success stories about students who have participated in programs with BKD?

Pelin: Yes! I have a story of a FLL team of ten kids from the town of Sivrice in Eastern Turkey, which is in the second poorest region of the country. They called themselves the Sivrice Dream Team and not many believed they would be able to participate in FLL. But they started to work with their coach in their village and met with anyone associated with science, technology, and robotics. That year the FLL challenge was Nature’s Fury and they developed a project to reduce the impact of earthquake effects. They took their project to the local tournament in the city of Gaziantep, about five hours away from Sivrice, and they won the Best Project award! This earned them the right to attend the national BKD FLL tournament in Istanbul, which is almost the opposite side of the country for them.

At the national tournament they won the Teamwork award and the invitation to go to the international tournament in Spain. This team was having a dream come true. With help from the Ministry of Education, an airline company, and leadership and volunteers at BKD, they went to the Spain event, where they won the Rising Star award!

This story is one of the reasons why it is the intention of volunteers at BKD to increase access to more children in disadvantaged situations and see more rising stars in science and technology.

Pelin: Thanks to our fundraising efforts and in-kind donations, BKD has been able to increase its awareness in public schools and with underserved populations. I do think we have become a living creature with a growing positive impact on Turkish students. Our alumni become part of the First Robotics competition when they get older, and many have gone on to attend universities abroad to continue in this area. We believe we are making a difference and helping young people see more opportunities.

ODC: As a volunteer, how have things changed for you?

Pelin: I think I’ve become more positive, open and empathetic. It’s also helped me continue to develop my project manager skills and communications. Also, my colleagues at IBM and BKD are invaluable. A team of volunteers is a powerful team, and together we can do powerful things.

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