Texas Workforce Commission grant expands UNT computer science and engineering camps

Friday, December 7, 2007

DENTON (UNT), Texas --  Thanks to a $102,000, two-year grant from the Texas Workforce Commission, the UNT's popular Robocamps, which are designed to interest girls in computer science and engineering, will be expanded for the summers of 2008 and 2009. For the first time, they will include middle- and high-school age boys, and a new camp will be created for high school guidance counselors and teachers.

The grant also will allow the program, which offers a series of summer day camps for students entering the eighth through 11th grades, to be offered at multiple new locations. The grant also will expand the CSEagle Ambassadors and Mentors program. The ambassadors and mentors are a group of UNT computer science and engineering students drawn primarily from traditionally underrepresented groups who mentor small groups of first-year freshmen and transfer students. The CSEagle Ambassadors and Mentors also accompany faculty on recruiting visits to area high schools and junior colleges and serve as hosts when prospective students visit UNT's Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

David Keathly, a lecturer and undergraduate advisor with the UNT Department of Computer Science and Engineering, is co-director of Robocamp along with Robert Akl, UNT assistant professor of computer science and engineering. Akl is the lead on the TWC grant; Keathly and  Krishna Kavi, professor and chair of UNT's Department of Computer Science and Engineering, are co-principal investigators.

Keathly says, "We will use the TWC grant to expand our current Robocamp offerings for eighth- through 11th-grade girls to add two additional camps for eighth-through 11th-grade boys, one at each UNT campus, and we will create additional experiments and activities to challenge both new and returning students. In summer 2009, we will add two to four additional camps at remote locations, such as high schools, community centers or local science museums, to expand the reach of the program into additional population areas with a high concentration of underrepresented groups."

Keathly is also excited about expanding the program to include a camp for high school guidance counselors and selected teachers. He says, "The camps will expose the counselors and teachers to academic programs and careers in computer science and engineering through hands-on activities that will immerse them for a short period into the field as participants rather than as bystanders." Keathly adds with this experience, the counselors will be able to provide accurate information and advice on computer science and related careers.

"Likewise, we will expand our CSEagle Ambassadors and Mentors program, which uses current UNT women students, to include male students, as a form of outreach to area middle schools and high schools, as well as to expand the support group for incoming freshman students from underrepresented populations," Keathly says.

Ten CSEagles will be selected in fall 2008, expanding to 15 in fall 2009.  The CSE Ambassadors will receive a $1,000 scholarship, and at least 75 percent of those scholarships will go to junior or senior students from underrepresented groups.

Keathly hopes that starting in fall 2009, the department will be able to recruit Emerald Eagle Scholars enrolled in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering as CSEagle Ambassadors and Mentors. A student success program, UNT's Emerald Eagle Scholars program allows talented undergraduate students from families with adjusted gross incomes below $40,000 to earn bachelor's degrees without the cost of tuition and fees getting in the way. Involvement and engagement in the life of the university is a major part of the program.

"This would be a great way to leverage some of our best examples of success and overcoming obstacles to mentor and inspire new students in our department," Keathly says.

In 2008, the College of Engineering will offer Robocamp for the fourth time. This past summer, the camps were expanded to include an advanced Robocamp, a CSExperience computer programming camp and an Eng-inuity! engineering design camp.  Attendees get hands-on exposure to engineering and hear from guest speakers who show the campers what they need to do now to prepare for a future in science and technology.

Last month, the Motorola Foundation gave UNT a $30,000 one-year grant to develop "Robocamp Mobile Unit" to target school districts with a large percentage of Hispanic and African-American female junior high and high school students and encourage those students to pursue careers in engineering.

Dr. Oscar Garcia, Founding Dean of the UNT College of Engineering, says, "Again, the service provided by these faculty members in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in stimulating high school and middle school students to give them motivation and self confidence to study and excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines is being significantly recognized. We hope that many of these students will look into engineering and science disciplines as intellectually, socially and financially rewarding endeavors to undertake after graduating."

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