So, You Work with the Library

by Caitlin Jackson, Youth Department, Central Library

What does a librarian do? When another librarian and I went to a career fair, most replies dealt in books. It is true that librarians work with information and providing said information can often come in the form of books. However, when working with today’s youth, we also have to provide opportunities through programming and programming requires partners.

So, “shhhhhhhh,” here’s the secret: You don’t have to be a librarian to work with the library. Just ask two of our University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Engineering mentors, Allaire and Mo.

A few years ago, a librarian had a dream (thank you, Lance!) which was to create a STEM-based program that could travel to many different branches throughout the city. This afterschool program would allow middle and high schoolers access to coding, soldering, and robotics classes. The people who developed these programs were librarians and UAB engineering students and professors.

Mo (left) and Allaire (right) in the Central Library downtown

Meet the Mentors
“Don’t be afraid to try anything, even if you fail, you still learned! (I think there is a quote similar to this. Maybe Einstein?)” – Advice for teens

Allaire Doussan is a student in biomedical engineering with a minor in mathematics and set to graduate in April 2019. She works with an ophthalmology lab developing image processing software and medical devices. When she’s not helping “save the world” (we like to think so, at least), she’s teaching middle and high schoolers engineering skills. She encourages all teenagers to take advantage of the Teens Engineer BHM programs, as well as open source curriculum available online, believing that “exposing teens to engineering principles and ideas and seeing them get excited about opportunities they didn’t previously know about” is one of the most important aspects of her work. While BPL offers robotics, Arduino coding, and soldering, there are many other skills out there that fit with different types of engineering.

Allaire teaching about different engineering professions

Allaire became interested in engineering because of her childhood desire to build and fix things. While attending East Lake High School, she participated in an engineering program that taught the basics and provided the opportunity to join the first FRC robotics team at the school. (“My senior year robot was six feet tall.”) The robotics and electrical teams played a significant part in solidifying her desire to pursue engineering. In high school Allaire was one of a handful of girls interested in the program, but she found out that there were more interested during college.

Allaire at the East Lake Library soldering class

Allaire started her work with future engineers in October 2015 during her first semester of college. She stated, “I asked my professors for robotics mentoring opportunities after being a member of a robotics team in high school,” showcasing the drive that she still puts forth in her work today. One of her professors worked with the Blazer BEST robotics program and the library program and it was an instant click. Allaire is currently one of the program’s curriculum developers and hopes to see participants of all ages develop independent learning on different levels with more hands-on experiences.

Allaire still excels in her professional and personal life as she has recently been accepted into Dartmouth’s PhD Innovation Program.

“Follow your passion, stick with it, always work hard, and listen to your elders.” – Advice for teens

Mo at the 2017 Teens Engineer BHM Robotics Camp 

Mohsine “Mo” Taarji joined the Teens Engineer BHM team three years ago under the advisement of Dr. Abidin Yildirim at UAB. Mo both leads and develops programming designed as a gateway to new experiences. “When you bring something new to them that they’ve never seen before, they’re happy.” His best experiences have been at the Southside and Woodlawn Libraries. The Woodlawn Library program had grown from one to nine students, all because of the connection and encouragement given to the first student.

The experience has been beneficial to Mo as well. He believes that developing the lessons has allowed him to delve into different areas in ways that he may not have before. “Teaching is not easy. It is a lot of hard work, especially for those who are coming from the heart.” Mo hopes to reach more kids by expanding the program for all ages and credits his parents and teachers for inspiring him to spare his passion.

Mo helping a teen design a house at the Woodlawn Library 

Mo has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and is currently working on his computer engineering PhD. He hopes to graduate in two years. Outside of working in the library, Mo focuses on hands-on work, including building and design. He has helped develop technology which sends an instant report of flooding to insurance companies, improving response time and preventing fraud. He is currently working on autonomous car systems for monitoring driving habits of impaired vision drivers. The system uses cameras, sensors, and GPS to collect data for researchers that wish to develop car features for these specific driver types.

So, how did Mo start engineering? His grandfather’s radio and a family TV. Both the radio and the TV did not work. Mo decided he would fix them. He opened them up and started tinkering. He had no idea what he was doing but he fixed them both, which is why if he could choose any other field, it would be mechanical engineering.

Teens Engineer BHM

 Middle schoolers work on soldering projects in Central Library's Open Lab

These programs are currently funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and were previously funded by the 2016 UAB Benevolent Fund. The Teens Engineer BHM program has provided various programs to branches as well as Open Lab at Central. These programs cover robotics, soldering, and Arduino.

What can my child learn?

Summer 2017 Teens Engineer BHM Robotics Camp

Robotics covers programming and coding specifically dealing with robots. Participants have learned to code robots to move with remotes or by sensing the lack of light in lines, as well how to dodge obstacles. Some advanced robotics classes allow participants to build the robots, as well as program.

2018 Summer Learning participants working on Arduino microcomputers

Arduino also teaches coding but often with projects related to electrical engineering. Our mentors have taught participants to code their own rudimentary Simon Says, a water detector, and a light that can send Morse code.

Soldering at the Ensley Branch Library 

Soldering allows participants to melt solder (metal) and use it as an adhesive to join components in a circuit. The Teen Engineer BHM program starts with simple projects such as making LED lamps or nightlights on a protoboard. These same skills are used for building circuits in computers, TVs, and other electronics.

3D printing at the Titusville Branch Library

3D Printing uses CAD software to design 3D objects. These designs are then sent to a 3D printer to create the objects. Depending on how big the object, it can take 30 minutes or even 15 hours to print. While this program is still in development, in February, students were able to use printers to create miniature models of African American inventions.

When is this happening?

Teens Engineer BHM
Each program has a maximum capacity of 20 people.
March 5 – Avondale Library – 3:45-4:30 p.m. – Robotics
March 6 – Springville Road Library – 4:00-5:00 p.m. – Robotics
March 7 – Five Points West Library – 3:30-5:00 p.m. – Robotics
March 19 – Woodlawn Library – 4:00-5:30 p.m. – Soldering
March 21 – West End Library – 4:00-5:30 p.m. – Arduino

Teen Tech Week
March 5-7 – Central Library – 3:30-5:00 p.m. – Robotics

Open Lab
March 19-21 – Central Library – 3:30-5:00 p.m. – Soldering

So, now that you know about who’s already working here, what can you bring to the library?

See more Teens Engineer BHM on Flickr.