International Student Trains Panamanian Teachers in Robotics Through Summer Internship

Marissa Montes, technical support specialist for the Office of Student Activities through University IT Services' STEP program, is working with PanamaSTEM-FundaSTEM for the summer.
Courtesy of Marissa Montes

Marissa Montes, technical support specialist for the Office of Student Activities through University IT Services' STEP program, is working with PanamaSTEM-FundaSTEM for the summer.

Four years ago, Marissa Montes spent her summer in Panama packing, saying farewell to friends and family, and preparing to move to a new country to study computer engineering. This summer, she is giving back to her home country as an intern with PanamaSTEM-FundaSTEM, an organization that seeks to improve the technological future of children and adolescents in Panama.

FundaSTEM trains teachers to help their students overcome those barriers and understand the importance of technology in every class they teach, such as using technology and robots to explain a class about plants or animals. "In Panama, technology is almost non-existent in public schools," Montes explained. "These kids are at a disadvantage compared to private school children that took robotics and programming classes from a really young age."

Montes, who is scheduled to graduate from the University of Arkansas in May 2019, spends much of her time in the internship training elementary school teachers about educational robotics using the WeDo LEGO kit. She described the importance of robotics to childhood technological education.

"If a child starts working with robotics early, they won't only be able to learn programming or mechanics — they will also start to work on their mental and sensory development, learning to solve problems easier because they are using logic to program their robots," she said. "They learn some technical English with the use of English guides and names for each of the pieces. They also bond with their classmates and teachers, and one of the clearest examples of what kids take away from robotics is the increase in creativity and spatial intelligence."

Montes also assists PanamaSTEM with a STEM school, teaching Minecraft EDU, Java, C, Python, Arduino, StopMotion videos, LEGO Mindstorm, WeDo, and Duplo. She is passionate about the work she does with PanamaSTEM-FundaSTEM.

"I have always loved teaching, and there was a time in my life where I hesitated and thought that what I was doing or studying was not what I was supposed to do," Montes said. "After some reflection and talking with my family, I realized that I could study what I love and still teach what I have learned. Being part of PanamaSTEM-FundaSTEM gives me inspiration to keep studying."

Montes chose the University of Arkansas when her government offered her a scholarship as part of its partnership with the University. Although she described her initial decision as "heart-wrenching," once she arrived she discovered that Fayetteville truly became a second home and helped her grow into the person she is today. "I had to grow faster than I could've ever imagined, and now I am an independent person with a lot of different experiences," Montes said.

Montes' passion stems from her personal experience studying in the United States without the technological knowledge base of American students. "Technology has increased through the years and it is important to help kids understand that technology is more than just games, social media and smartphones," Montes said. "FundaSTEM wants to help students compete in the modern world and give them the tools to change lives. I know for me it was kind of hard to go to the university and study Computer Engineering without the same base knowledge Americans had, so if I can do something to change that with kids that do not have the money to do so otherwise, I'll do it every time."

Montes realized her ability to teach through her work as a Technical Support Specialist in the Office of Student Activities, a position she received through University IT Services' Student Technology Employment Program (STEP).

"I have learned so much in OSA with all the computers and the involvement I have there," Montes said. "I have to talk with so many different people, and resolve so many obstacles, that I think I realized that I had what it takes to be able to teach kids, and keep them learning." 

Montes cited the creativity required for her Technical Support Specialist position as a favorite experience. "The last project I worked on was to design a new RSO Office Space. I had never used building design software, so I had to learn how to use it and start designing different rooms for staff to choose. It was exciting working on something on paper, and then I will see the fruits of what I draw when I come back from my internship. I'm really excited about it."

Montes encourages students to work on campus if they need to work.

"I didn't want to work at first because I thought I wasn't going to have time for homework or social life," she said. "However, I am a really active person and I like a little bit of a challenge in my life. I believe getting involved with on campus jobs is important if you want to increase your opportunity for valuable work experience. I think it's better to volunteer or work on campus than off campus because the offices and teams are really understanding of coursework and constantly changing schedules, and you can also build a family with your coworkers."

The Office of Student Activities is a department within the Division of Student Affairs. For more information about the Office of Student Activities please call 479-575-5255 or email

Panamanian teachers use Legos to create a model of the Panama Canal, part of the training connected to robotics that Marissa Montes provided.

About the Division of Student Affairs: The Division of Student Affairs supports students in pursuing knowledge, earning a degree, finding meaningful careers, exploring diversity, and connecting with the global community. We provide students housing, dining, health care resources, and create innovative programs that educate and inspire. We enhance the University of Arkansas experience and help students succeed, one student at a time.


Rosa Edwards,
Office of Student Activities

Scott Flanagin, executive director of communications
Division of Student Affairs


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