Unisa welcomes Fulbright Scholar

Inspired towards Science, Engineering and Technology (I-SET) proudly welcomes Dr Tanja Karp from Texas Tech University to Unisa. She will be part of the team until June , and was welcomed by Prof Isaac Osunmakinde, Director of the School of Computing, and Kabelo Pheeha, I-SET Facilitator. I-SET is a flagship community engagement project of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) at Unisa. The aim of the project is to inspire awareness of science, engineering and technology through the fun activities of robotics.


Kabelo Pheeha (I-SET Facilitator), Dr Tanja Karp (Fulbright Scholar 2016/ ), and Prof Isaac Osunmakinde (Director: School of Computing)

Karp will be hosted by I-SET as one of ten US Fulbright Scholars to South Africa during . She is an associate professor in electrical and computer engineering from Texas Tech University (TTU), with teaching and research focused on community engagement, service learning, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education among learners and undergraduate engineering students through robotics. At TTU, she has been the organiser of the annual Get Excited About Robotics (GEAR) competition, which has grown from 20 participants to more than 1 000 participants during the last 10 years.

The Fulbright programme is the flagship international educational exchange programme sponsored by the US government and is designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries”. Over the past fifty years, the Fulbright programme has provided almost 300 000 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential—with opportunities to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. The programme also awards grants for international faculty, professionals, and students from around the world for advanced research, university lecturing, and studies in the United States.

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This visit evolved from a collaboration that started at the Engagement Scholarship Conference 2013, which was hosted at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. In 2015 and 2016, robotics teams from USA, Germany, and I-SET participated in an exploratory Virtual Robotics Competition to allow participation in an international competitive challenge without having the constraint of the cost of travel. It is envisaged that this initiative will be enhanced and expanded to reach a wider community of robotics learners, currently constrained by distance and resources.

During her stay at Unisa, Karp will be participating in the facilitation of I-SET robotics workshops at science expos, including the 2016 SKA national science week, the SAASTA Techno Youth Programme, TechnoX and Scifest. She will also facilitate the presentation of a new I-SET short learning programme, namely Practical Experience of Engineering and Programming.

A lively exchange of experience between I-SET leaders and professionals in both countries will be part of her visit, especially pertaining to successes in creating interest in science, engineering, and technology through community engagement and robotics. She looks forward to interacting with Unisa students and learners in I-SET robotics workshops. It is the goal of I-SET and Karp that this collaboration continues beyond her stay in South Africa and will result in new international initiatives and opportunities.

*By Patricia Gouws