Peru’s University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC): Digestive System as a Chemical Plant

Members of the UTEC AIChE Student Chapter, including (clockwise from upper left) Aline Mota, Lelis Clemente, Angel Castillo, and Madeline Mueller (an AIChE professional and former Chair of AIChE’s K-12 Committee)

At the 2020 K-12 STEM Outreach Competition, the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) from Peru won the prize in the category 6th – 8th grade category with its K-12 activity “Digestive System as a Chemical Plant.” In this post, we introduce you to some of  UTEC’s student leaders, who share their story. 

About the students

Angel Salvador Calleja Castillo is a chemical engineering undergraduate at UTEC, where he is treasurer of the AIChE Student Chapter. He is graduating in 2022 and told us that he chose chemical engineering because of the versatility it affords in choosing jobs. He is interested in working in the food industries, but he is also interested in renewable resources to reduce our dependence on fossil resources. 

Lelis Clemente Figueroa is the co-founder of UTEC’s AIChE Student Chapter. When she became chapter president in 2019, she knew she wanted to be involved with K-12 activities. However, at first only five people were involved in the chapter. 

“It was extremely hard to build a network with faculty members and local schools, but once I participated in the mentoring program of AIChE’s Peru local professional section, we could break that barrier and become more involved with local schools,” said Lelis. 

The UTEC students agree that STEM outreach is an excellent way to learn science’s fundamentals and discover new things. It allows students to solve problems, exercise their creativity, and develop new skills that are necessary for their future careers. 

Student from a local grade school engage with a demonstration set up by the visiting UTEC AIChE members.

Lelis attended the AIChE Annual Student Conference in 2019, and she experienced the inaugural K-12 Showcase, live and in-person. She knew that the UTEC student chapter had to become involved. Their mission, as a K-12 outreach program, was to distinguish chemistry from chemical engineering.

Arnold Ludwig Lazaro Riquez became the coordinator of UTEC’s AIChE K-12 activities, and he brought the initiative to his hometown, Junín. The plan was to visit schools from rural areas in which education only includes the fundamentals of most subjects. However, when the pandemic hit, all plans were canceled. 

Navigating the pandemic

Still, the UTEC students rose to the occasion and decided that the pandemic could not interrupt their K-12 mission. They would find a way to continue with the program – virtually. Arnold managed virtual sessions with students from seven to 16 years old. They also had a program for  students with disabilities.

The feedback from the kids was exceptional, and they really enjoyed the experience. The UTEC students also found the virtual meetings to be a great outlet for the stress and the sadness of social distancing. Their mission is ongoing, and they have also developed a program in vaccination. 

Finding balance

The UTEC students also shared some of their struggles related to keeping up with coursework when they are actively involved in outreach activities. Fortunately, the K-12 outreach team is now up to 50 volunteers. “It becomes a lot easier to manage and balance outreach with academic courses when you have a larger group,” said Angel. 

Future goals

Angel believes that the team’s ultimate goal should be to motivate K-12 students in Peru to pursue STEM in college, so that they can develop the knowledge and understanding of science and engineering that is needed to create a better world. “It would be even better if these students choose chemical engineering as their careers,” he adds. 

If you would like to know more about the dynamic UTEC AIChE Student Chapter and its projects, you can learn more at @aiche_utec. All of their K-12 modules can be found at @k12.utec.