Retired engineer Bruce Petersen has volunteered with the Gads Hill Center (GHC) Teen Connection program for the last two and a half years. Through his efforts, Bruce has made a difference in the lives of our youth and continues to share his time and abilities helping GHC transform families through education. Teen Connection is a STEM-focused program that helps Gads Hill Center prepare high school students for college and other postsecondary education options. The program provides practical learning experiences in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math; this includes the opportunity to compete in the Midwest Regional FIRST Robotics Competition under the guidance of Bruce and his fellow volunteers. Staff at Gads Hill Center recently interviewed Bruce gain an in-depth look into his volunteer experiences.
Tell us a little about yourself and why you chose to volunteer with GHC.
I’m a retired engineer. Two years after my retirement I found myself playing around with drum lessons, but then I came across an article that wanted to connect teachers and people from various industries together. The purpose of this was to help teachers get more practical insight into their curriculum. I decided to sign up for this opportunity and a physics teacher from Gage Park High School contacted me. While I was assisting him, he asked me if I wanted to start a robotics team and eventually introduced me to a robotics team on the South Side of Chicago. I became involved with his robotics team, but unfortunately, the team from Gage Park High School faded away. Even though his team no longer existed, I wanted to continue helping students learn about robotics. Luckily, a staff member from Gads Hill Center contacted me and asked if I wanted to start a robotics team. I eagerly agreed to help out and I've been a volunteer with GHC for the last two and a half years.
What would you consider your greatest strengths? How are those strengths an asset when volunteering?
My greatest strength is engineering. I know how to make numerous robotic figures, so I love the technical aspects of the projects I do with the students. When I volunteer, my goal is to keep the teens engaged and help them think critically, so they can come up with answers. I enjoy asking the students “Who, what, when, where, and how?” I discovered the key to teaching robotics is implementing project management, keeping track of their resources, and managing how much time they have to complete a project. I have noticed most of these students don't have any workshops like this in their classrooms. I can tell they appreciate the different method of learning and I feel great knowing how much they're going to need these skills in the work force.
What have you gained from volunteering with GHC?
I have met some really nice people. I enjoy the other volunteers I work with, the staff at Gads Hill Center, and most importantly the students. I feel happy knowing these students are learning, having a great time, and find it's beneficial to work with me. Overall, the robotics team at Gads Hill Center is an amazing group of students.
What has been your most rewarding experience volunteering at GHC?
My most rewarding experience while volunteering at GHC is seeing the enthusiasm of the students when they are involved in the robotics competition. Even when things are not going well, it’s amazing to witness them work together to fix the robot, and run all over the place making sure their individual participation matters. That's the coolest part and is honestly an experience I look forward to every year.
Based on your experience, what can individuals interested in volunteering with GHC expect?
Individuals interested in volunteering with Gads Hill Center can expect to adopt a good sense of priorities from their experiences. They have to understand that it's about the students and not necessarily building robots, for instance, but guiding them to learn about robotics as a subject matter. This can be very difficult at times because volunteers can easily get caught up in competing and focus more on the students winning the competition, instead of understanding the educational process. I may help them build this robot; however, I never want to find myself taking over the project. The best way to help the students is allowing them to learn, allowing them to fail, and allowing them to succeed when they rightfully earn their spot.
Describe a situation that occurred while volunteering during which previous experiences were valuable.
My previous professional experiences proved to be valuable because I've realized that a team requires everyone to work together. Knowing how to work well with a team was my experience in the outside world. I've realized it's not everybody's experience because some people are accustomed to working on their own and have the desire to finish tasks by themselves. Teamwork is very important and really works well in a place like Gads Hill Center.
What's it like coaching the teens in GHC's program?
Overall, coaching the teens has been a great experience in my life. Participating in the Midwest Regional FIRST Robotics Competition is very exciting; I love seeing the teens work together.
At Gads Hill Center, we rely on dedicated volunteers like Bruce to supplement the services our programs provide. We are grateful that he and other caring individuals choose to give their time and efforts to help us create opportunities for children and families to build a better life through education, access to resources and community engagement.