Posted on July 02, 2019

Texas A&M University at Qatar spent 16 weeks over two semesters working with the Qatar Science and Technology Secondary School for Boys to build a wireless communication system to encourage science and engineering exploration and innovation in young high school students.

The open-source project, TalkiePi, is a single-button, push-to-talk, Wi-Fi walkie-talkie that allows users to talk with their friends easily over WiFi. Beginning in September 2018, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experts from Texas A&M at Qatar’s Office of Development, Engagement and Outreach guided students through the process of designing, building and testing their own TalkiePis to learn mechanical, electrical, programming and prototyping skills.

Mrs. Fawzia Al-Khater, Assistant Undersecretary for Educational Affairs at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, was keen to create a holistic school program. The academic school program includes university programs that are based on the provision of workshops, training programs and educational courses. This is part of the school’s vision of incorporating educational courses that are implemented under the supervision of Education City universities. The first project was the initiative of Texas A&M University at Qatar. Mrs. Fawzia reported: "I was happy with the outcomes of the program and I did not expect the students to react with this level of enthusiasm. Motivating student and initiating a love for STEM were our targets in the first year of operation. That is exactly what happened with our experience with Texas A&M University at Qatar and was achieved a pace that we didn’t expect. So we are now seeking to take further steps to expand after carefully examining the outputs of this year."

The collaboration began with an introduction to 3D modeling using 3D computer-assisted design software. Students learned the basics of 3D design by creating their own cases to hold the components of the TalkiePi. After the design process, the students learned the basics of 3D printing using Dremel 3D printers. The students created and printed test objects, which allowed them to practice their new skills before tackling the TalkiePi case, battery pack and personalization.

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In the spring, the students began the semester with an introduction to electronics hardware. The students learned basic circuitry diagramming and prototyping using power supplies, resistors, LEDs and various other components using a solderless breadboard, which was then used to build and test circuits. After completing their circuit prototypes, the students were taught how to solder electronic components into a working circuit. During this portion, the students were introduced to the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, and learned the microcomputer’s hardware components and the Linux open-source operating system. These skill sets offer a solid base on which future advanced building projects can be developed.

Some students such as Abdulla T Al Fehaida began the school year and the course not really knowing what engineering is or what engineers do. “When I entered this school, I thought engineering was just construction and buildings,” Al Fehaida said. “But after a few months in the school and during this course, I learned that there are many things an engineer can do and I learned the steps that go behind a project. We did a lot of hands-on activities and fabricated a walkie-talkie, and with all of the things we learned, I think engineering is so fun and I have a new perception of this.”

Rashid Mohammed Aljalham agreed and said, “I started this class thinking it would be too difficult and I won’t be able to achieve anything. Little did I know that I would greatly enjoy working in this environment. And here I am, celebrating the final product with my friends. We are all very happy with this project. It was after the first two classes that made me rethink what I want to be in the future and it made me want to be an engineer.” Other students said they too gained a new outlook on engineering during the Texas A&M at Qatar-led project and were considering the field as a future career.

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Participant Sultan Al-Maadid said he enjoyed the course, which gave him a preview of engineering in the real world and the engineering design process behind product development. “First, we brainstormed ideas. We then built our mockups based on the ideas we came up with and sketched. After that, we learned about soldering and 3D CAD on SolidWorks that helped us with the project. And finally, we assembled all the parts to make our final prototype. This course made me more curious and I have been doing my own projects that I work on in my own time. This is helping me develop the skills that I learned during this course and I am having a lot of fun with that.”

Another student Mubarak Al-Abdulla said, “In this course, we learned a lot of things, including soldering, 3D CAD using SolidWorks, and the steps to solving a problem. Now that we finished this course, I have a better idea about engineering and I would like to be an engineer.” Teaching basic “making” skills have become a priority in STEM education, said Texas A&M at Qatar’s Dr. Mohamed Gharib. These skills, when taught early, can encourage future exploration into hands-on making, presenting students various opportunities to integrate multiple science and engineering foundation skills into their experience.

“STEM education in Qatar is rapidly developing,” Gharib said, “and the opening of this new STEM school—which has already attracted talented students—is considered a crowning achievement for this development. We’re pleased to be contributing to helping these students advance their educations and build human capacity in Qatar.”

The program had 60 students participating in two-hour sessions over 16 weeks, totaling 32 hours of instruction per student and taught by Gharib, Benjamin Cieslinski and Tala Katbeh.