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Driving Students to STEM Success

Published on May 24, 2018 by Aaron Dubrow

The Code@TACC Robotics camp will give 36 high school students from Central Texas the opportunity to build and program autonomous vehicles.

Thirty-six high school students from across Central Texas will have the opportunity to build and program autonomous vehicles this summer thanks to a gift from the KLE Foundation to the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to support the CODE@TACC Robotics program.

The program, now in its fourth year, gives students from schools with limited resources their first exposure to coding and uses a project-based learning approach to expose students to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Each student in the program will receive a Raspberry Pi computing system which they will transform into an autonomous vehicle. Students will learn advanced programming concepts, including how to train a neural network to use a car's sensors to give it classification and decision-making capabilities. At the conclusion of the program, students will present a solution to a problem in autonomous driving to program staff, participants and parents.

The program, now in its fourth year, gives students from schools with limited resources their first exposure to coding and uses a project-based learning approach to expose students to careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

"We will teach students to use advanced computing and neural networks to impact the technologies that students will be surrounded by in the future," said Joon Yee Chuah, a senior program coordinator for education and outreach at TACC and one of the creators of the CODE@TACC Robotics program.

The program will run from June 17 to June 23, 2018.

CODE@TACC Robotics is part of TACC's center-wide efforts to engage K-12 students in meaningful, educational experiences that have a profound impact on their lives, empowering them to be full participants in STEM innovation. It is one of four summer programs offered by TACC. The other three are: CODE@TACC Connected, focusing on computational solutions to societal problems; CODE@TACC Wearables, where students create Internet of Things-connected objects; and CODE@TACC Cybersecurity, exploring internet security, cryptography and more.

These TACC programs develop students' critical thinking, data analysis and visualization expertise, and leadership ability — necessary skills in a technology- and data-driven era.

TACC researchers developed the hands-on, interactive curricula for the summer programs. The sessions convey to diverse audiences the importance of supercomputing and its impact on society. They provide exposure and career paths for students to enter the STEM workforce.

The programs include instruction and career guidance from TACC researchers, who are experts in parallel computing and software engineering. A high mentor-to-student ratio allows for personal connections with STEM role models. The program also includes panel presentations from undergraduates and professionals, and industry site visits to increase awareness about STEM careers with connections to computing.

The 2017 CODE@TACC Robotics student cohort.

Previous years' CODE@TACC Robotics programs have taught students to develop cloud-connected robots and to build robotic systems using Lego Mindstorms. The switch to self-driving vehicles is part of TACC's mission to continuously innovate.

"It's not enough to teach students what's happening now," Chuah said. "We must teach them what's happening in the future."

Students in the program reside on campus at The University of Texas at Austin. The residential component eliminates transportation barriers and helps demystify the notion that a university education is unattainable to those with limited financial resources or to first-generation college students. Structured academic and social activities, soft skill development, trained residential advisors, and communication with parents are all part of the program design.

"The KLE Foundation believes that quality computer science education is needed and necessary for all K-12 students. We are excited to support the CODE@TACC Robotics program as they educate and inspire Texas students who otherwise might not receive this opportunity."
Mindy Arbaugh on behalf of the KLE Foundation

"During our programs, it is our goal to expose and train students in technology, but also allow them to explore some of life's opportunities," said Dawn Hunter, a senior program coordinator at TACC. "Many of our students have been discouraged again and again and sometimes give up trying. However, during the camp we allow the students a safe space to explore and excel. We focus on encouraging, not discouraging. This helps students build a growth-based mindset."

KLE contributed $45,900 to support the program, which is free to participants and covers room and board.

"The KLE Foundation believes that quality computer science education is needed and necessary for all K-12 students," said Mindy Arbaugh on behalf of the KLE Foundation, which seeks to provide quality educational opportunities to underserved communities. "We are excited to support the CODE@TACC Robotics program as they educate and inspire Texas students who otherwise might not receive this opportunity."

CODE@TACC leverages other awards and programs at TACC and works with collaborators across the university and community to expand its reach. TACC disseminates its open source curriculum via the web and leads teacher/educator professional development throughout the year as a strategy to maximize impact.

The CODE@TACC programs have seen great success since they launched. In 2015, a female-only CODE@TACC cohort built a parallel computer cluster using small-scale Raspberry Pi microcomputers, earning a place on the Green500 list — a ranking of the world's most power efficient supercomputers.

TACC staff presented the CODE@TACC cloud-connected robotics and wearables curriculum at the 2017 Texas STEM Coalition Conference [see the curriculum]. Additionally, they presented best practices in outreach and recruitment at recent conferences including: the 2017 Informal Science Education Association of Texas, the 2017 National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates Conference, and the 2018 Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference.

"TACC is committed to providing rich, computational training opportunities for the next generation of innovators," said Rosalia Gomez, TACC's Education & Outreach Manager. "With support from the KLE Foundation, we are also addressing the dire need for diversity in computing."


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