The Laboratory offers an opportunity for teachers to bring back lessons about radar and engineering to their schools.
Middle school teachers Stephanie Mendoza (left) and Monica Albuixech (right) learned about radar fundamentals at the 2023 LLRISE program.
Middle school teachers Stephanie Mendoza (left) and Monica Albuixech (right) learned about radar fundamentals at the 2023 LLRISE program.

This summer, participants from near and far came to the Laboratory for the two-week Lincoln Laboratory Radar Introduction for Student Engineers (LLRISE) program—including middle school teachers Monica Albuixech, who teaches at Hanscom Air Force Base, and Stephanie Mendoza from Brownsville, Texas. LLRISE is an annual radar workshop initially created for rising high school seniors. Since 2017, the program has also taught teachers who wish to learn about radar and incorporate science and engineering into their own classes. LLRISE took place from July 9 to 21 this year, and participants learned about the basic principles of radar, 3D printing, programming with Python, and Doppler radar imaging. They also built their own radar systems and conducted experiments with the radars.

Albuixech is a teacher at Hanscom Middle School, located on Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts. The Hanscom school system provides education for the children of military personnel living on the base. Albuixech teaches digital literacy and computer science to students in fourth to eighth grade, and she also serves as an instructional technology specialist, working with teachers to integrate technology into the classroom and school curricula. Albuixech believes an early education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is particularly important for the students she works with, who enter and exit the school system frequently due to their parents' deployments.

“I feel that students learn a lot better when they are doing things with their hands. When we provide STEM projects, even if a new student comes into my class because their parents have just been deployed here, they can immediately participate in the lesson and have a sense of belonging. They can provide ideas, build, construct, and feel that they are part of a group and a community, because collaboration is a big part of STEM,” Albuixech says.

Albuixech’s collaboration with Lincoln Laboratory began during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because several staff were reallocated to technical support for virtual classes, her school could not offer a computer science class. Daphne-Ann Vessiropoulos and Chiamaka Agbasi-Porter, Lincoln Laboratory’s K–12 STEM outreach program administrator and coordinator, reached out to Albuixech to see how they could help support Hanscom students’ STEM education. A relationship with Lincoln Laboratory was established, and during the following years, Hanscom students were invited to tour Laboratory facilities, including the Flight Test Facility and the RF Systems Test Facility. While the students found these tours insightful, Albuixech thought that they could also benefit from additional hands-on learning. Vessiropoulos and Agbasi-Porter suggested Albuixech apply for LLRISE, and her participation in the program opened up an avenue to many nearby resources.

“Being at the Laboratory has been an eyeopener, because I’ve had this facility very close to the school, but I never really knew what Lincoln Laboratory did,” Albuixech says. “I think LLRISE is great. They are giving us the resources and kits for students to actually work with hands on. It’s in my backyard, and I can utilize the knowledge and expertise of the instructors.”

For Mendoza, LLRISE was much farther from home; she traveled more than 2,000 miles from Brownsville, Texas, where she teaches engineering to eighth-grade students at Brownsville Raul Yzaguirre STEM Scholars (BRYSS) Academy. Mendoza found out about LLRISE through a fellow teacher from Brownsville, Esmeralda Hernandez, who had participated in the program in 2022. The two met at a Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering meeting, where Hernandez spoke to a group of teachers about her experience at LLRISE. Mendoza immediately became interested and asked Hernandez to connect her to the program. Besides desiring a personal challenge, she saw the value of introducing the LLRISE curriculum to BRYSS Academy students, the majority of whom are considered “economically disadvantaged” and have limited access to technology.

“Just having the experience of working with radars would be a great advantage to my students, and it may actually inspire them to go into an engineering or cybersecurity career in the future,” Mendoza says. She says it is important to introduce students to STEM early, adding that “exposure to STEM is very critical because it allows students to think differently. Having students experience STEM, even if in small amounts, would help them problem solve, and it would help with motor skills and spatial recognition.”

At first, the two teachers found the course material difficult—after all, they were revisiting concepts they had not seen since they were students themselves. But with time and effort, the challenge proved worthwhile and yielded new insights.

“This has been a challenging experience, but at the same time, one that has allowed me to get to know myself better as an individual,” Albuixech says. “Just like the students, I had to take time every day after the program to go over my notes and persevere to understand things better. The social network that I got from the experience—from the teachers, to the instructors, to the students, and to the teaching assistants—is also invaluable.”

Mendoza describes her experience at LLRISE as humbling and says she learned just as much from the students as she did from the program itself.

“If you give the students something challenging, they will level up to it. They won’t necessarily give up. They want to get things done, and they want to actually work toward getting a result. More than anything, I’ve learned from the students that perseverance is key in anything you do,” Mendoza says.

Albuixech and Mendoza are leaving LLRISE full of ideas for how to bring the program back to their own classrooms. Leveraging her role as an instructional technology specialist, Albuixech plans to collaborate with her school’s science teachers to integrate aspects of LLRISE into the academic curriculum. In particular, she envisions lessons during which eighth graders can try soldering and using radar kits to determine the distance of objects and the detectability of different materials. Mendoza sees the potential to incorporate 3D modeling and printing into her design and modeling class, during which students create a toy for a child with cerebral palsy. During the second semester of the school year, students taking Mendoza’s flight and space class could use Doppler radar to visualize the flight patterns of paper airplanes and apply radar to Mars rover navigation and terrain mapping.

Inquiries: Contact Erin Lee.