This year, the E&O team completed its eighth year of hosting Code@TACC, the center’s signature summer residential program for high school students. Code@TACC Robotics introduces students to programming, artificial intelligence, and machine learning; Code@TACC Connected gives students an opportunity to explore the relationship between coding and their communities.
E&O Program Manager Dawn Hunter lauds the benefits of Code@TACC camps like watching students build confidence, make new friends, and grow in their computer science (CS) skills.
“We want Code@TACC camps to inspire students to pursue STEM,” said Hunter, who served as camp director. “Seeing campers build relationships while also growing their interest in STEM is exciting for our team.”
Over two weeks, nearly 50 high school students gathered for new and exciting experiences designed to increase their interest in computer science. Of the attendees, 26 were first-time campers and 14 were first-generation college aspirants (children of parents who do not hold college degrees).
Code@TACC started in 2015 with just 50 students. To date, the program has served nearly 600 students with the majority from African American/Black and Hispanic/Latinx backgrounds.
During Code@TACC Robotics, campers used machine learning algorithms to program miniature cars to detect human faces, stop signs, and primary colors. To accomplish this, students learned the programming language Python and how to use artificial intelligence.
E&O Senior Training Coordinator Edgar Garza designed the pedagogy.
“We used AutoAuto cars to teach introductory Python concepts, artificial intelligence concepts, and machine learning in group settings to foster teamwork among campers,” Garza said. “Employers are looking for critical thinkers who can solve problems and work collectively, and we want to equip campers to be up to the task.”
Landon Gary, a senior at Rutland High School in Macon, Georgia, praised the program for giving him the opportunity to connect with other students and work together on camp projects.
“Thanks to my time at camp, I can see a future for myself in coding and cybersecurity,” Gary said. “If you’re on the fence about attending a camp like this, I encourage you to do it because you’ll learn cool things about STEM.”
At Connected, campers used networked sensors to collect data and create models for environmentally relevant problems. Students also learned how data can be used to tell a science story.
TACC Senior Systems Administrator Je’aime Powell designed the curriculum and served as lead instructor. Powell views STEM education as more than just something you learn at a desk and leave in a classroom. To demonstrate his commitment to kinetic learning, he led students on a hike where they used self-built sensors to aggregate data they would use later in the week.
“Connected allows students to experience the world of environmental science and geoscience while immersing themselves in the scientific research, sensor creation, and data dissemination processes,” Powell said. “We wanted students to engage in STEM education in an active, hands-on way.”
Brishelle Bazil, a junior at the Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy in Houston, wants to pursue a STEM career.
“I want to be a biomedical engineer because I love science and solving puzzles,” Bazil said. “At Connected, I’ve been part of a great community of people also interested in STEM careers.”
When they were not working on connecting sensors or coding autonomous vehicles, campers enjoyed the best Austin has to offer. Students toured Q2 Arena, home to Austin FC of Major League Soccer; visited UT Austin’s Visualization lab to experience virtual reality; and dined in The University of Texas Club.
“We must be intentional about opening doors in STEM for historically underrepresented students because many aren’t given a chance,” said Yaritza Kenyon, who served as lead counselor for Robotics and Connected. “Some girls thanked me simply for being a Latina woman in STEM. Representation is important in fields where it’s hard for some students to feel accepted.”
“When I was in college, there may have been one or two female STEM students in a class of 50 people,” added Tracy Brown, TACC’s Web and Mobile Applications Manager and a camp instructor. “Code@TACC camps are great ways for students to pursue various CS pathways.”
Code@TACC participants and their families are invited to Back@TACC quarterly outreach events to continue learning coding, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, and to benefit from academic and professional development workshops.
In May, TACC launched the Susan Fratkin Scholarship to address educational inequities and support undergraduate student persistence in higher education. Twenty-three Code@TACC alumni each received $500 scholarships at the inaugural Fratkin Scholarship banquet.
“The Fratkin Scholarship supports students who pursue higher education,” Kenyon said. “STEM careers are numerous and offer a variety of opportunities.”
Click here to learn more about Code@TACC camps.
Source: Damian Hopkins, TACC