Excellence award: Volunteers in Turkey help develop the next generation of science heroes

Science heroes
Ümit Çiftçi at a FLL robotics
tournament in Turkey. A colleague
calls him a “silent hero” in
their nine year support of BKD.

Science heroes
Ümit Çiftçi at a FLL robotics tournament in Turkey. A colleague calls him a “silent hero” in their nine year support of BKD.

Do a search on the Internet for “science heroes” and you’ll get famous names that include Marie Curie, Galileo and Stephen Hawking.

But keep searching and you’ll also find names such as Dr. Aziz Sancar, a Turkish-born scientist who received the Noble Prize in chemistry in 2015.

Pelin Tayanç, Ümit Çiftçi and a team of IBM volunteers in Turkey are determined to continue expanding the list of potential Turkish science heroes.

For several years, the Istanbul-based volunteers have been working with Bilim Kahramanları Derneği (BKD, or Science Heroes Association) to promote activities that ignite interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with young people in Turkey—to develop their next generation of science heroes.

The IBM volunteer team was awarded a 2017 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award for their accomplishments.

Team effort

Among its initiatives, BKD uses FIRST LEGO League (FLL) to engage and excite young people about science and engineering.

Kids in FLL 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—tournament competitions are part of the experience.

In 2015, IBM Volunteers first told the story about Pelin’s involvement with BKD—she started in 2009 as a volunteer tournament judge; a follow-up story in 2017 provided an update on her volunteer efforts.

Yet, Pelin, an IBM senior sales specialist, is quick to say how much of a team effort it has been; and it is the full IBM team that is recognized with the IBM Volunteer Excellence Award.

The volunteers operate on two levels with BKD—capacity building and program delivery.

In the first, they act as consultants and architects to increase organizational capacity and bring greater efficiency to processes such as tournament registrations, volunteer and judge management, and reporting.

The second role is in their engagement with children and the learning process on STEM topics, including participating in coding and software application education for robotics for children between the ages of nine and 16.

“We are the largest, sustainable corporate volunteer group that supports BKD,” Pelin says.

She adds, “The size of our volunteer team will adjust depending on the needs of the organization. For example, last year, Tugba Kanar, Alev Ayzan, Hakan Sozen and Muharrem Nalbant joined us for vital support for a few weekends during the robotics tournaments. While Ali Ozkan contributed 100 volunteer hours supporting BKD as a referee at tournaments and helping with the IT infrastructure. Another important member is Gülay Küçükşahin, who has been with us since 2015 and supports the operational system for judges.”

Two former IBMers—Hasibe Göcülü and Burak Çakıl—continue to be active volunteers at BKD.

Pelin and Ümit Çiftçi, an IBM solution manager are the constants at BKD; they have been there since 2009 and both now serve on the organization’s executive board.

“Umit is a silent hero,” says Pelin. “He will sign-up for the heaviest tasks and successfully get everything done, on time, without fuss or flare.”

Reaching more stars, developing more heroes

The main goals of BKD are to: attract youth to basic sciences from an early age; organize events so youth can imagine themselves as the scientists, engineers, able entrepreneurs, and empowered global citizens of the future; and encourage young scientists and engineers.

In her 2017 interview with IBM Volunteers, Pelin commented on the growth of the program and the goal to expand to 81 cities and reach about 100,000 students within the next ten years.

BKD, with the help of the IBM volunteers, has added more activities, including FLL Jr. for younger kids, the World Robot Olympiad for teenagers and awards recognition for young adult scientists.

IBM Turkey’s country general manager volunteered and attended the 2017 tournament, which attracted 3,000 students.

And the current year is expected to be even larger. For the 2017-2018 season, BKD has received 600 team applications for the youth FLL program, representing nearly 4,000 students, from 55 cities across Turkey.

“Thanks to our fundraising efforts and in-kind donations, BKD has been able to increase its awareness in public schools and with underserved populations,” Pelin says. “I do think we have become a living creature with a growing positive impact on Turkish students.”

For example, a FLL team of students from one of Turkey’s poorer regions made it to the international tournament in Spain in 2016 and won the Rising Star award.

Something Pelin said is as true today as when she and Ümit began their commitment to BKD as volunteers in 2009: “A team of volunteers is a powerful team and together we can do powerful things.”


The IBM volunteers from Turkey are among 12 other IBM teams and individuals who are recipients of the thirteenth annual IBM Volunteer Excellence Award. The award is recognition from IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty and is the highest form of global volunteer recognition given by the company to employees.

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