Hosting international exchange students does more than bring diverse cultures into a community. For John O’Connell High School in San Francisco, hosting an AFS international exchange student gave students a unique opportunity to learn about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) through a revived robotics club.

Mate Pluhar, an AFS Student from Hungary with an existing interest and experience in robotics, was hosted at John O’Connell High School this past academic year. Mate, with the help of Minh Luc, the school’s information technology teacher, and Bill Brees, an AFS Volunteer, brought the robotics club back to the school after six years of inactivity. The robotics club is one of the only science-focused extracurricular programs at the school.

“They do have a lot of extracurricular activities in the high school, but it’s usually surrounding athletics,” Mate said. “I feel that [bringing robotics to the school] is important because in robotics, you can see what you’re doing, it can make students in my school interested in science…Those nine people [in my team] were not particularly interested at first, but they realized that they can actually build stuff. I think this was a big step for them because they realized their confidence and they realized that they can achieve something big if they work hard.”

According to a 2016 to 2017 enrollment survey, 63 percent of students in John O’Connell High School were from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Bill Brees, the AFS Volunteer involved with bringing robotics to the school, felt that the club gave local students academic opportunities that they may have not had before.

Hosting international exchange students like Mate benefit a community beyond bringing intercultural understanding; it exposes local students to innovative ideas and skills, and can teach them how they can apply those acquired skills in a larger capacity outside of classrooms.

“Robotics encourages kids to go into the STEM field, but it teaches them the scientific methods that will be transferable to any 21st century careers…We make it fun, but it’s also work on their part” Bill said.
Mate completed his final year of high school at John O’Connell. He plans to continue pursuing his passion for robotics by participating in university-funded projects in the future.

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