STEM Impact In Action: Jesús Centeno, FIRST Puerto Rico Coach

By: Shenys González, Edited and translated by: Mariam Gorbea 

(The original Spanish article can be found here)

The constant moments of creativity, excitement, innovation and growth that FIRST Robotics offers students is what makes these programs so exciting for teachers and coaches. These are the moments that confirm their passion for teaching and motivate them to return year after year to participate in Eureka’s programs. It is for this very reason that Jesús Centeno celebrates his 7th season as a FLL Challenge team coach this year.

Jesús Centeno is a teacher at Colegio San Vicente de Paúl. He describes himself as a leader, with a sense of good humor, who is always involved in various school committees from dance to journalism to robotics. He is someone who is always willing to help others, whether they are students at his school or coaches from other teams.

“ I am someone who helps absolutely anyone because I believe we live in a world with too much competition. I think that helping each other is much better. I will always be supporting others.” It was this desire to help and support his students that made him take that first step in joining the FIRST PR family.

We have a high percentage of students that don’t identify with anything,” explained the coach. He noticed how Puerto Rico was lacking something to motivate its students, something that would inspire them to want to be curious and learn. Jesús knew that a quality STEM education would change all of that. “It’s STEM that manages to engage them. The kids see that everything is connected to STEM. It not only [gives them the skills for school], but also prepares them for many things in life.” 

Jesús remembers how, seven years ago, even he was feeling a desire for personal growth. “I felt like I was stuck, like there was nothing challenging or new left to learn.” It was then that he learned about Eureka Enrichment Services, Inc., the only affiliate partner for FIRST in Puerto Rico, and the FLL Challenge program. At that time, Jesús didn’t know much about robotics… but he did have a great sense of curiosity and a desire to do more for STEM education and his students. 

I have always loved technology,” the teacher told us. “Knowing that there was a robotics educational project out there that I didn’t know about and that I [hadn’t had] the opportunity to work with a robot, manage a robot… it was that uneasiness that motivated me to [join this project].”

He took the first step, signed up in Eureka’s Programming Professional Development workshop and enrolled his first team. Reflecting on Eureka’s support throughout the years, Jesús declared that “Eureka’s support is an excellent one. They have always helped me and held my hand when I needed it.” Seven years after having joined the program, he feels just as supported. “They are always helping me at Eureka. They always answer me. They always treat me well. They always support me. The people that work there – the interactions are always friendly, and informative. They make sure you leave without any doubts. And it is based in Puerto Rico. Eureka can solve everything for us in Puerto Rico.”

Since he became a coach and participated in Eureka’s Professional Developments, Jesús feels like infinite doors have opened for him. “In San Vicente they were looking for a robotics teacher, and that’s how they hired me… Being a coach with FIRST, it has given me the confidence to believe that I can do other things, explore new fields. It has opened up my horizons and given me the strength to know that everything I want to do, I can.”

He was not the only one who felt the impact of participating in FIRST. Just as he had predicted, he saw how more and more of his students would get inspired as they participated in FLL Challenge. They started finding something they identified with. The reason for this new identity? The commitment they saw that mentors, like Jesús, and all of Eureka had with their success and education. “It was the competitions; seeing that this is big. The magnitude… the [competition] tables… all the focused teams. I saw the kids happy, the parents happy. Each year I keep being surprised, it’s like going to Disney or something like that. I love seeing how the kids react [to the way their work is celebrated].”

Jesús highlighted that the impact of that new found STEM identity was not only felt by the boys. He has noticed how over the years, despite having well balanced teams, the great majority of his team captains were girls! This coach observed how participating in the STEM programs Eureka offers, programs like FLL Challenge, made the girls feel sure of themselves, motivated them to think critically about each mission, and empowered them to identify as chicas in STEM that are leaders.

STEM education has the power to transform students into Puerto Rico’s leaders of tomorrow. Jesús Centeno is already seeing this become reality through his team members. His students have become disciplined, structured people with a good sense of humor. They are persevering youth that are always supporting each other throughout any obstacle. “They are going to fight for what they want and more than anything do it as a team… If Puerto Rico [keeps supporting] STEM education, we will have students who analyze more, who ask more questions, and explore all possibilities,” says Jesús. They will have the skills they need to help Puerto Rico overcome any obstacles and push us down towards a future that’s even brighter.

Help Eureka’s #STEMimpactPR reach even more students and inspire more of our future leaders. Support us this  #GivingTuesday2021 and donate at on or before November 30th. With your help we can create 150 scholarships for public school students!

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