Italian students visit Segerstrom for engineering project

Bushra Syed and Angie Martinez
June 1, 2023

Two years ago the Silvano Fedi Enrico Fermi State Technical Technological Institute, a high school in Pistoia, Italy, reached out to the US Embassy looking for American high schools that were interested in participating in the Open Source Rover International Collaboration. Our very own engineering teacher Adam Woods answered the call. Segerstrom’s engineering students began to work on creating their own replica of a JPL rover, and across the Atlantic, the Italian students were doing the same.

The purpose of the rover project is to unite international STEM students and encourage them to pursue careers in engineering. Students have the opportunity to learn how to code, build, and explore the different fields and applications of engineering. The official project, STREAM, which is similar to STEAM but includes robotics, was started by Italian computer science teacher Riccardo Niccolai winning a grant for his school.

“The grant came from the US Embassy in Rome but in US dollars. The grant was for a STEM project with a caveat that any Italian school that won the grant had to work with an American school,” said Mr. Woods. “[A] contact at JPL reached out to me and said, ‘Mr. Woods, it’s a crazy project; an Italian school is reaching out through the US Embassy in Rome asking if they knew anyone in the US that might be willing to do this project.’” Mr. Woods immediately jumped at the opportunity.

Over time, both schools would meet via Zoom to work together and share what they’ve learned. This year, the two schools were able to meet in person as the Italian engineering students made a trip to our very own Segerstrom High School. For a week, the Italian students accompanied their American “twin” throughout the day and visited some iconic California landmarks.

Being paired with an American twin also allowed students to share cultural experiences as the Italians experience California for the first time. Sara Strufaldi, an Italian high school senior, shared that she was most surprised by the size of American cities. She was amazed by “how big the streets are compared to the ones in Italy,” which is no surprise when taking the size of the city as well as its population into consideration. Before arriving on campus, Strufaldi always thought that American schools were similar to the ones she has seen on TV and in movies, and when she arrived she was pleasantly surprised that she was right. Another Italian student, Francesco Fagni shared similar reactions with Strufaldi when they first came to Segerstrom. Fagni exclaimed that Segerstrom was one of the largest high schools he has ever seen and that it was “very well the size of a small town in Italy.”

As of now, both schools have their own replica which they are continuing to work on as students are divided into teams that contribute to different aspects of the rover. Segerstrom junior Savannah Gomez hopes to eventually make the rover “somewhat functional…getting it to move around” as the Italian students plan to conduct test runs of their rover back home once completed.

Despite the program coming to an end and a majority of the students moving on to graduate, the program has created long-lasting effects on the students’ interest in engineering as well as establishing deep relationships between the American and Italian students. Fagni and Dev Basu, who were paired together for the program, plan to carry on their communications with each other as they have multiple shared interests and had the chance to bond during the visit. They plan to eventually meet again in person with Basu planning to take a trip to Italy to visit him.

Segerstrom hopes to eventually be able to host another group of ambitious engineering students and continue the program in the coming years.

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