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At the Forefront of Robotics School Programs (Grades 3-12) in Massachusetts

Reinier Moquete

Reinier Moquete is CEO at Advoqt Technology Group, an IT professional services and consulting firm focused on designing and implementing vendor-agnostic Hybrid Cloud Computing solutions including the People, Processes, and Technologies that are necessary for its adoption. Reinier has worked with some of the top service providers in the country and is one of the leading corporate technology experts in New England.
In 1999, Reinier was living in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Realizing he needed an education to escape the destructive path in which his life was heading, he moved to Boston. It took him six years of full-time night classes, all while maintaining a 60+ hour work week, to earn an A.A. and A.S. (Business & Finance, respectively), both from Bunker Hill Community College, as well as a B.S. in Telecommunications from Pace University (NACTEL). Making it out of a life-threating situation, turning his life around, and building a technology career made him want to help others do the same, so Reinier co-founded Latino STEM Alliance, a 503(c)3 certified non-profit designed to inspire underserved youth to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Since it's founding, Latino STEM Alliance has worked with 1,500 kids, grades 3rd through 12th, in activities ranging from biology to robotics, across Boston, Lawrence, and Worcester.
A social entrepreneur and community leader, he is engaged in a number of other civic activities including the Operations Board within the Massachusetts Governor's STEM Advisory Council, the Skilled Careers in Life Sciences program within the Boston Private Industry Council, and the Latino Legacy Fund within The Boston Foundation. Having come from humble roots in Dominican Republic, Reinier always makes time to meet with rising professionals and provide guidance on how to excel in the technology industry. Helping underserved youth succeed is his greatest passion.

Q: Please tell us about The Latino STEM Alliance and its programs especially its robotics program? How many students does your robotics program serve and where are they located? How long has it been in place and what were the main reasons and goals behind its establishment?

Moquete: Latino STEM Alliance (www.latinostem.org) is a 503(c)3 certified non-profit designed to inspire underserved youth to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM). LSA partners with schools, private industry, community groups, and academia to bring STEM to underserved youth who would otherwise not have such an opportunity by identifying successful STEM enrichment programs nationally, and then delivering that program on site for the community groups and public schools we partner with (at their facility). Since it's founding in 2010, Latino STEM Alliance has worked with 1,500 kids, grades 3rdthrough 12th, in activities ranging from biology to robotics, across Boston, Lawrence, and Worcester.
The goal of Latino STEM Alliance (LSA) is to level the playing field so that urban youth can experience STEM and be qualified both to pursue STEM-related studies in college and STEM-related fields as a career. The "achievement gap" is due primarily to gaps in opportunity and inspiration. LSA addresses the gaps in our young people's experience by providing them not only with substantive STEM activities, but by providing college and professional mentors to guide them as they undertake the challenges and experience the successes of STEM. Our programs have a parent engagement component, so that parents will be aware of STEM-related education and career paths, not only for their children, but for themselves as well. Latino STEM Alliance focuses its programming on communities with significant Latino populations; however, programming is open to all students.
Latino STEM Alliance has received financial support from Thermo Fisher Scientific, Parametric Technology Corp (PTC), Raytheon, Eastern Bank, Kronos, Suffolk Construction, among others. Community partners have included Hyde Square Task Force, The Kroc Center, YMCA at Egleston Square, Boys & Girls Clubs (Dorchester/Chelsea/Lawrence), as well as English High School and Lawrence High School. In Summer 2013, LSA received the Collaborate Boston Award by The Boston Foundation along with a $50,000 donation. That grant has allowed us to expand year-round programs to 6 additional Middle Schools in Boston.

Q: How do you measure the effectiveness and the success of your robotics program?

Moquete: LSA has developed metrics to assess the effectiveness of the program. These include comparisons of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test scores pre-and post-participation; surveys administrated to team members pre- and post-participation; journals which team members write in biweekly; and feedback from classroom teachers about team members' improvement in communication, tenacity, teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership.

Q: Has your program contributed to the academic success and achievement of its participating students?

Moquete: The 2013/2014 is the first time that we are collecting grade information so we currently don't have enough data to measure academic impact, however we have received strong feedback stating that math and science interest levels among team members has increased and that they are now excited and courious about these topics.

Q: What would be your solutions to remedy to these obstacles?

Moquete: The solution to properly managing scarce resources is simple. African countries need to take a look at the percentage of gross domestic product that rapidly developing countries like India are spending on STEM research and education, and then emulate it. This is the most direct path to long-term success.

Q: In your opinion, could more urban students (namely Latino and African-American) benefit from robotics programs like yours?

Moquete: Although both the "opportunity" and "achievement" gaps are critical issues for urban youth, the biggest issue of all is the "inspiration gap"... Regardless of how many opportunities you give someone, if they are not inspired, they will not achieve.
Programs like ours inspire youth. Latino STEM Alliance's success is a clear indication that more programs like ours are needed and that minority students can benefit from them. The demand we currently have from schools and community organizations for Robotics Teams far exceeds our ability to provide these resources. Our programming has quadrupled in the past year (10 schools in Boston, 1 school-year program in Lawrence, 8 summer programs in Boston and Lawrence). Schools and community organizations who have had our services, are asking for us to expand and support more students. We expect this growth to continue for the next several years, particularly as academic impact data becomes available.

Q: How engaged are your robotics students, especially the younger ones? Please give examples.

Moquete: Very engaged! We've had many students tell us "I didn't know science could be so much fun" and teachers comment that students have "a particular sparkle in the eye" and "highly visible excitement" when engaging in our Robotics programs.

Q: Tell us about yourself, what prompted you in pursuing a career in education? Do you have any tips or advices for students aiming to pursue a career in STEM or STEM related fields such as medicine, business and economy, just to mention a few.

Moquete: I am not an education professional... I'm an IT guy! I own a Systems Integration and IT advisory firm called Advoqt Technology Group (Advoqt.com), that's what I do for a living. I volunteer many hours per week to Latino STEM Alliance, which I co-founded with my friend Raul Porras (also an IT guy) in February 2010. We saw that few Latinos were entering the STEM fields yet the demand for such professionals was increasing so we decided to do something about it. After over a year a research, defining the model and making sure we would have maximum impact, we started executing robotics programs across Massachusetts.
A big motivator for me is that future generations don't experience the financials struggles that my family and I experienced growing up. STEM represents a huge economic development opportunity and it is our responsibility, as professionals that are aware of this unique moment in history when 50% of all engineers in the USA are set to retire within 10 years, to highlight for underserved communities that economic independence is very much within their reach. It's also an opportunity to ensure our country is able to continue innovating and complete in a global economy.
In terms of advice for students, I'd say to recognize that STEM college majors create analytical thinking skills that are valuable in all career fields... ALL. It also doesn't hurt that 6 of the 10 highest paying jobs for new college grads are in STEM fields!!!

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2011 The Innovative Science & Technology Group (ISTGTM)