Carnegie Mellon University’s iSTEP internship program makes a mark in Bangladesh
Following last year's successful internship program in Tanzania, Carnegie Mellon students traveled to Chittagong, Bangladesh to conduct technology research as part of the iSTEP program.
"iSTEP is all about transcending boundaries, crossing cultures and bringing different people together," said M. Bernardine Dias, Ph.D., assistant research professor in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science and founder and director of TechBridgeWorld. "It's not an easy task to address real-world challenges in a 10-week summer internship, but the iSTEP logo of a footprint is symbolic of taking a step toward making a difference."
Launched by the TechBridgeWorld research group in 2009, iSTEP - short for innovative Student Technology ExPerience - is a 10-week internship program that allows students and recent alumni to work in developing communities on innovative technology projects. TechBridgeWorld works to pioneer research in the field of ICTD (Information and Communication Technologies for Development).
Using a multidisciplinary approach, the iSTEP team consists of students from different areas of study – from public policy and management to business administration and computer science and information systems. Each student has a specific role and is responsible for a different aspect of the project. Brian Manalastas, a senior business administration student in Qatar, is the team's documentation lead.
"I chose iSTEP over other internships because it provides an array of opportunities that will better prepare me both personally and professionally. The program trains you how to become a more effective team-player, researcher, communicator and problem-solver, while making a difference in a developing community," said Manalastas.
This year's iSTEP team included students and alumni from Carnegie Mellon's campuses in Qatar and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. The five interns worked closely with TechBridgeWorld faculty and staff in collaboration with the Asian University for Women (AUW), a new university dedicated to educating young women from across South and South East Asia and the Middle East, and Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), a volunteer social development organization in Bangladesh.
"Each year, the iSTEP program will be different as we work in a new community, with a new team of students and partners with unique needs," said Dias. "This summer, the students worked on two research projects – developing an educational English literacy tool for pre-collegiate students in AUW's Access Academy program, and building upon our low-cost Braille Writing Tutor for students introduced to us by YPSA."
The interaction with the local partners and the community reminded Aysha Siddique of why she applied for the iSTEP program. "It was basically to witness the opportunities provided by AUW to young women all over South Asia," says Siddique, a 2010 computer science and information systems graduate of Carnegie Mellon Qatar.
Another aspect that attracted Siddique to the program is that iSTEP focuses on bridging the cultural gap between developed countries and those that are still developing. "While talking with the students at AUW, I realized many of them come from an educational and cultural background similar to mine and are facing many of the same challenges that I did during my first semester at Carnegie Mellon Qatar. Through this internship, I am reminded that ICTD is something that I am passionate about, and want to do further work in," says Siddique.
Dias says the students who participate in iSTEP exhibit tremendous personal and professional growth as a result of their experience. She is looking forward to many more years of iSTEP making a positive difference in developing communities throughout the world, while simultaneously expanding the horizons of the students who take part.
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