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To Tanja Karp, the purpose of mentoring is to assist mentees to succeed in their careers, to meet their goals, and to broaden their horizons. She observes that "There is no immediate reward for the mentor other than the gratifying feeling when seeing the mentee succeed, and the new perspectives gained through the interaction." Over more than 10 years of her mentoring work, Dr. Karp has developed many long-term partnerships and collaborations.
Creating new opportunities to engage K-12 students in STEM and engineering through robotics programs is one of Dr. Karp's chief concentrations, but her mentoring also includes undergraduate and graduate students, as well as teachers and colleagues in academia and industry. She sees her role as that of a visionary and facilitator. When she noticed there were no robotics programs readily available in West Texas, she started a K-8 robotics competition in Lubbock and secured resources, such as the participation of engineering students as mentors, so that students can participate at no cost. She notes that for individual students, "the fact of competing on a university campus, or engaging in an informal conversation with me about the robot design, and some words of encouragement have a huge impact on their self-esteem and self-efficacy development, as well as their long-term commitment to, and interest in STEM fields."
Since 2006, Dr. Karp has organized the Get Excited About Robotics (GEAR) competition at Texas Tech which has grown from a trial run with a single school in 2006 to about 700 participants in 2015. It is the only robotics program in West Texas (an area the size of many states) offered at no registration fee to participants in grades K-8 in that region of Texas. GEAR is an eight-week LEGO robotics challenge based on the LEGO MINDSTORMS kits. The program is offered at several locations in Texas and culminates in a Game Day, during which teams of students, teachers, and coaches come together to compete. More than 40 percent of participating students are Hispanic or African American.
The competition provides access to an engineering challenge for participants in grades K-8, and offers engineering undergraduate students mentoring and part-time job opportunities. In 2010, Karp added a service learning section to her introductory Engineering course for undergraduates who, as part of their service, mentor GEAR high school teams. Over the last six years, over 250 engineering students have served as GEAR role models. K-12 students in the GEAR program who are not local to Texas Tech can participate virtually and, where possible, participate in day-long LEGO robotics field trips that are open to all K-12 students in schools that participate.
Dr. Karp has received several national awards including the INSIGHT INTO Diversity- 100 Inspiring Women in STEM Award in 2015; the Hewlett Packard/ Harriett B. Rigas Award from the IEEE Education Society in 2012; and the Texas Tech President's Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015. In 2014, she was recognized as a Texas Tech Integrated Scholar for her integration of teaching, research, and service, and was the Whitacre College of Engineering Butler Distinguished Educator Fellow from 2012-2014 in recognition of her work related to robotics and engineering education.