Prof. Tim WOO - An Educator Focusing on Experiential and Service Learning
It was during the first wave of COVID in early 2020 when Prof. Tim WOO Kam-Tim and his HKUST Robotics Team students made the bold decision to continue with their explorations. Observing COVID restrictions and regulations, they broke into smaller sub-groups and took turns to work in the lab around the clock. When the Robocon 2020 Hong Kong Contest was finally postponed from June to September 2020, the Robotics Team members had already enjoyed a five-month head start since other teams had been dormant during the peak of the pandemic. Becoming the champion in Hong Kong and the first-runner up in Asia-Pacific at ABU Robocon Festival 2020, the HKUST Robotics Team showed their can-do team spirit once again.
Prof. Woo, Director of Center for Global & Community Engagement (GCE), Associate Director of Academy for Bright Future Young Engineers as well as Associate Professor of Engineering Education, never fails to motivate students. “Engineers need to stay sensitive to the needs of people to generate designs with societal impact,” stated the home-grown scholar who pursued BEng, MPhil and PhD in the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering at HKUST. Whether it is about leading undergraduate students to participate in robot design competitions or inspiring primary and secondary pupils via STEAM education, he considers experiential learning essential to the development of hard and soft skills and ultimately how to be an engineer bearing social responsibility.
The making of a socially-responsible engineer
The engineer walks the walk about social responsibility. Growing up as the eldest son in a humble family, he witnessed his street-hawker parents engage in acts of generosity to those in need. As an adolescent who held many part-time jobs to pay for tuition, he actively led and pioneered community services at school which earned his school awards from the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS). During matriculation, he debated between social work and engineering as his lifelong career, and ultimately entered engineering school to follow his passion in maths and science. Exemplifying Hong Kong’s signature Lion Rock spirit to work hard and achieve, he continues to have the heart to serve people’s needs.
Experiential and service learning have been emphasized in Hong Kong ever since the introduction of the new four-year undergraduate curriculum in 2012. Back in 2005 however, Prof. Woo, as a pioneer with the belief in multiple competencies which are not confined to academic excellence, had to persuade students to participate. Students’ response grew from zero in the first year to 100% in the third year. In 2008, his students designed a device to alert the elderly to take medication, as well as a Braille printer for the visually challenged. The projects, with real impact, garnered awards from various local and national competitions including the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance Awards.
As he assumed supervisory role of HKUST’s well-known Robotics Team in 2010, his many-faceted efforts in advocating experiential and service learning created increasing synergy. In 2011, the School of Engineering’s Center for Global & Community Engagement was established with him as the Founder Director. Currently with 10 staff members, the Center has a number of enrichment programs offered with engineering professional associations and community organizations for undergraduate students at HKUST. Working hand in hand with the Academy for Bright Future Young Engineers, the Center also organizes activities and competitions for primary and secondary school students to drive STEAM education in Hong Kong.