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BP Gift Supports STEM program in Texas

Published on January 28, 2020 by Aaron Dubrow



Students were paired in groups of two and created sensors that would be used to collect data.

This summer, 20 high school students from across Texas will have the opportunity to learn how to apply sensors and advanced computers to study environmental problems, thanks in part to a $50,000 gift from BP to the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin.

The grant will support Code@TACC Connected, a residential summer experience for 10th and 11th graders that exposes students to STEM careers in computing, teaches them skills they would not learn in the classroom, and motivates them to pursue careers in computer and computational science.

"BP recognizes the critical need to prepare our future workforce," said Rosalia Gomez, TACC's Education and Outreach manager. "With this award, BP is helping us reach students that have been historically underrepresented in STEM, and provide exposure and opportunities for students to discover their talent."

Students and their mentors hiked at Turkey Creek Trail with their sensors to measure gas levels, soil moisture, humidity, air temperatures, sound readings, and light emittance at multiple sites on the trail.

Students in the program experience the scientific process from sensor design and data analysis to the presentation of their results. The one-week camp begins with students constructing environmental sensors while correlating them to human senses using the Raspberry Pi platform. The sensors are then taken into the field to collect sample data, including atmospheric, auditory, and surface data from multiple biomes.

The students then analyze the collected data computationally using Jupyter notebooks and Python. Scientific hypotheses are formed and assessed, and the results are presented using physical dioramas combined with data-driven simulations emitted from student-made electronic designs.

The camp compresses an undergraduate-level research experience in environmental science, computer science, electrical engineering, and creative design into a seven-day enrichment program.

"The result of the hackathon-like atmosphere generates a sense of ownership of the projects by the participants which leads to an intimate knowledge of the research process," said Je'aime Powell, a senior systems administrator at TACC who helped develop the curriculum.

Piloted in 2015, Code@TACC has shown success in motivating students that are historically underrepresented in STEM to pursue a STEM major in college. Of the 140 Code@TACC alumni (served between 2015-2019) that are currently enrolled in postsecondary education, 66% are enrolled in a STEM major, 22% are enrolled in computer and information sciences, and 26% are enrolled in engineering. The table [below] shows that Code@TACC alumni who are women and/or underrepresented minorities (URM) are enrolling in these programs at higher rates than the general population, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Code@TACC alumni who are women and/or underrepresented minorities (URM) are enrolling in these programs at higher rates than the general population, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The program helps build and diversify tomorrow's technology workforce, while also encouraging students to develop solutions to environmental program.

TACC supports many sensor-based research efforts, notably PlanetTexas2050 — which imagines how changing climate and demographic trends will impact the state — and DesignSafe — a National Science Foundation-funded effort to support research by the natural hazards engineering community. Code@TACC Connected leverages knowledge gleaned by serving as a facilitator on those efforts.

Beyond learning programming and electronics, Code@TACC offers soft skill development, including how to network, spark a conversation with a professional, create a LinkedIn profile, and collaborate with students from diverse backgrounds.

Students created an animated diorama using a Raspberry Pi coded in Python to display via LEDs some of the data they collected. For this team, based on the data from their sensor, one can see the sound, light emittance and temper at specific points of time at two locations on the trail.

In addition to Connect, TACC offers two other Code@TACC programs, in cybersecurity and robotics. Code@TACC Connected is geared towards students who participated in the robotics camp and builds on the skills developed in that program, and keeps students on track to study STEM fields in college.

In past years, Code@TACC programs have seen a high level of engagement from experts at TACC and its partners, including professors at The University of Texas at Austin, cybersecurity professionals from Cisco, and technologists from Dell EMC. These experts teach and interact with student through site visits and presentations about their careers.

"We're grateful that BP is funding Code@TACC Connected because it means more students who might not have access to a programming summer camp due to financial obligations will now be able to attend our program," said Dawn Hunter, program administrator for the Education & Outreach Group at TACC. "While at camp, they will be able to grow their programming knowledge and be a part of a community of students with similar interests who want to succeed in technology."

BP is a long-time member of TACC's Science & Technology Affiliates for Research (STAR) program. In the past, in collaboration with TACC, they supported the STAR Scholars Internship Program, several SC Student Cluster Competition teams, and a hackathon for high school coders.

"BP understands how critical technology will be in our work to modernize our business as we transition to a lower carbon future. We seek to recruit the most talented graduates in science, engineering, math, and computer science to work on our teams," said Keith Gray, director of High Performance Computing. "The Texas Advanced Computing Center is a key partner in identifying and training talented students. We are thrilled to support Code@TACC and their goal of introducing talented high school students to science and computing, and hope they will be part of our future."


Story Highlights

A $50,000 gift from BP to TACC will support the Code@TACC Connected program.

The program gives 20 high school students from across Texas the opportunity to learn how to apply sensors and advanced computers to study environmental problems.

BP, a longtime member of TACC's Science & Technology Affiliates for Research (STAR) program, has supported the STAR Scholars Internship Program, several SC Student Cluster Competition teams, and a hackathon for high school coders in recent years.


Contact

Faith Singer-Villalobos

Communications Manager
faith@tacc.utexas.edu | 512-232-5771

Aaron Dubrow

Science And Technology Writer
aarondubrow@tacc.utexas.edu

Jorge Salazar

Technical Writer/Editor
jorge@tacc.utexas.edu | 512-475-9411