Computer Science, Design Thinking, Education, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, STEM

Ta-Da! Learning 8 Core Design Abilities

This week I was reunited with our January 2017 Teaching and Learning Studio (TLS) alumni from our TLS workshop at Stanford’s dSchool.  This year we met at University of Maryland’s Academy for Entreprenuership and Innovation.  It was a time to go beyond our five design thinking phases to the 8 Core Design Abilities.

When teaching students, such our KU IHAWKe leaders, or training professionals, we need to use these skills that I first heard back in 2017 and practiced this week at Maryland:

  • Build and craft intentionally
  • Synthesize information
  • Communicate deliberately
  • Move between concrete and abstract
  • Experiment rapidly
  • Learn from others (people & contexts)
  • Design your design work
  • Navigate ambiguity.

Engineers and computer scientists not only need to know the fundamentals of our disciplines but how to creatively approach designing solutions with human needs at the forefront.  We had fun at the “Ta-Da” version of TLS doing a Process Remix with interactive tools such as “Zoom In, Zoom Out”, “Wall Flower”, and “Shape Shift”.  Thanks Stanford dSchool and UMD Academy for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (Leticia, Dean, Erica, Meenu, Bre, Brooke, Mira, and Tim) for giving us a refreshed design perspective to bring back to our universities and students!

Ai, Artificial Intelligence, Computer Science, Engineering, Robotics, Technology, Uncategorized

The AI Divide: Living in an Age Where You are the Product

I believe I may have coined a new term, the AI Divide, in my paper titled, The Potential Societal Impact of the AI Divide (at least when I googled the term prior to submitting the article). About two weeks ago, I shared a paper and presentation on the AI Divide at the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Spring Symposium on AI and Society: Ethics, Safety, and Trustworthiness in Intelligent Agents held at Stanford University. My paper and presentation discussed what the AI Divide is and asked the following questions:

  • Does an AI Divide exist?
  • Are there populations that are negatively impacted by the AI Divide?
  • Should there be public policy that will protect “AI-marginalized” populations?
  • Should we provide AI Literacy for all citizens?
  • Will the AI Divide continue to increase or shrink?

These are questions that will need continued discussion, exploration, and answers. The Digital Divide began in the 80’s with the advent of the personal PC and later the Internet and the disparities in access to computing devices, fast Internet, and access to internet-accessible knowledge sources. This has helped contribute to socio-economic disparities including education quality, college readiness and career outlook and income.

The AI Divide is developing because AI is becoming more and more ubiquitous in our daily lives. AI is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in e-commerce (e.g. Amazon), natural language recognition (e.g. Siri), social media (e.g. Facebook), information technology, and even wearable tech (e.g. Apple Watch). Several startups and automakers want to make AI ubiquitous in driverless cars, although lately Uber and Tesla have had untimely deaths related to the AI involved in driverless cars.

Before this week, I saw the AI Product Cycle involving people as consumers of AI products, and companies that develop and control the hardware, data, and algorithms as the producers of AI products. People interact with this hardware to generate data closely tied to their emotions and behavior, which are in turned used by companies’ algorithms to produce AI-enabled products (e.g. Facebook app).

But as we are seeing recently, companies such as Facebook, are using people’s personal data to fuel their social network algorithms to influence people’s behavior. In this case, influencing voter behavior, as well as their purchasing behavior. But Facebook is not unique. Other big companies, including the usual suspects (e.g.Google) are doing the same to monetize these algorithms by using ads to influence behavior.

One user said it best in an online interview about Facebook’s tactics and said that he realized that he is the product. His data was being sold so that others could feed their psychographic machine learning algorithms to know how to best exploit his personal information to make him vote or buy the way the company wanted him to. What he said raises the question: Are YOU the product of these companies that use your data and AI algorithms to influence YOUR behavior?

The AI Divide is the split between the companies that own the hardware, data, algorithms, and applications that you and I use, so that they can exploit our emotions and behavior and those of us that down own them. Most people are AI illiterate and don’t understand the basics of how their data is used, nor how these machine learning algorithms work. The disparity between those who create, own, use, and understand these algorithms and those who don’t is the AI divide and has potential to create disparities in quality of health, safety and security, and prosperity.

Unlike the digital divide, the AI divide won’t necessarily exist along racial, socio-economic, or even political and educational lines. The AI Divide can exist across these lines between the producers/owners of the hardware, data, algorithms, and applications of AI and those that are only the consumers, and in some cases, the living and breathing “products” sold and influenced by AI.

What can be done to address the AI divide? Those are the answers we need to decide on before it’s too late.

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the School of Engineering and the Charles E. And Mary Jane Spahr Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, at the University of Kansas (KU). Dr. Williams is also Director of the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab at KU.

© 2018 Andrew B. Williams

This article was written on April 9, 2018.

diversity, Education, Engineering, Innovation, STEM, Technology

Knowledge is Power Especially When Shared

This week, our IHAWKe students were able to visit high school students at a KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school in Houston,Texas, as part of our Tiny Homes for the Hurricane Homeless project.  It was especially meaningful for Rajanee, one of our NSBE students, since she attended a KIPP middle school in Kansas City, Missouri and is now studying mechanical engineering at KU. Rajanee is able to attend KU because of a generous KU engineering alum’s establishment of a KIPP scholarship for our School of Engineering.

Our IHAWKe students were able to share one-on-one and in small groups with the KIPP students, what the experience of studying engineering and computing at KU is like, how they decided to become an engineer, and how they overcame obstacles in their pursuit of engineering. For the KIPP students, it was an unusual opportunity to get to meet and ask questions with someone close to their age about engineering and its benefits.

For our IHAWKe students, it was also an opportunity to share about their Tiny House for the Hurricane Homeless project with the KIPP students. The KIPP students were learning how students from architectural engineering, information technology, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and other disciplines at KU are working together to imagine and build solutions for those who are impacted by hurricanes. Our IHAWKe students were also able to observe and learn first hand the lasting impact of Hurricane Harvey and gained insight into the trauma and hardships some people are still facing because of it.

One of the KIPP students, I’ll call her Sarah, said she wanted to become an electrical engineer, because her Dad was an electrician. Her story resonated with me because she said there were six kids in her family. My oldest brother was the first in our family to go to college and he paved the way for the rest of us to consider college. My hope is that Sarah will find her path to college as she plans to attend community college first and then pursue her engineering degree. It would be wonderful if we were somehow able to help her with the challenges she faces to becoming an engineer. And we were all pleased that we could help share some of our engineering, computing, and life knowledge with these KIPP students. Because knowledge is power especially when its shared with those who need it most.

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!

Computer Science, diversity, Education, Engineering, Innovation, STEM

Katherine Johnson Scholar Sisters Are Future Princess Shuri STEM Stars

On Friday, our KU IHAWKe program hosted 15 Katherine Johnson Scholar Sisters from Wichita, Kansas to our NEST (Novel Engineering Studio for Technology and the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab.  The excitement of the girls seeing our newest humanoid Pepper robot, we named RoRo, was evident when one of the young ladies shouted, “Wow! I’ve never seen a real robot before!” The group’s founder and leader, Janice Hardeman, started the group as a way to inspire these young, African American girls to pursue their dreams and education in STEM. She wanted these girls to follow in the footsteps of NASA pioneer, Katherine Johnson, highlighted in the Hidden Figures movie. IHAWKe and the KU School of Engineering were honored to be able to support the group by providing a bus and lunch for the girls for their two and a half hour trip to KU.

One of our KU IHAWKe students, Rosa, shared her experience being a KU Engineering student and how she was able to combine her love of art and passion for helping others as a new Architectural Engineering student at KU.  Now the Katherine Johnson Scholar Sisters have role models in Katherine Johnson, Disney Princess Shuri from the Black Panther movie, and Rosa. They can begin to dream of becoming an inventor, engineer, and computing whiz like the Disney portrayed Princess Shuri. Princess Shuri created physics-enabled inventions for Wakanda using the fictional element of Vibranium. Let these girls dream and become part of our next generation of STEM stars!

Design Thinking, diversity, Education, Engineering, Innovation, STEM

IHAWKe-a-Thon: Engineering Tiny Homes for the Hurricane Homeless

This past Friday and Saturday, IHAWKe students at the University of Kansas, came together at the NEST, to use human-centered design to build a life-sized, low fidelity tiny house for those left homeless by a hurricane.  IHAWKe (Indigenous, Hispanic, African American, Women, KU Engineering) is the Diversity and Women’s Programs at KU that brings together AISES, NSBE, SHPE, and SWE students to change the world, connect with others, and conquer their classes.  The students were guided by empathy to understand and design for the needs of those impacted by a natural disaster.


Students took time to interview to learn what others were thinking and feeling when they were left without the conveniences of home or even when they lived in a country for a month without power.


The IHAWKe students represented several engineering disciplines including architectural engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and information technology.


They defined and reframed the problem and launched into a brainstorm for solutions.  They were encouraged to think outside the box for a period.  Then the IHAWKe student leaders gave them the real constraints they needed to heed for their solutions.


Each student team was responsible for a different section of the house including the bathroom, kitchen, bedrooms, power supply, and exterior skin, or building envelope.  They researched existing products, thought about how they could be modified, and estimated costs. And then the fun began with building the prototypes.


The students remarked that seeing the prototype as it filled the mock PVC frame gave them insight that just having it sketched on paper didn’t.


Determining how to store, catch, and use water was one of the challenges that was prototyped for the IHAWKe Tiny House.


Students prototyped a way to create power for essential uses and what would be the best type of toilet to design in a natural disaster setting.



Of course, the students had to conceptualize and create a place to sleep on the bottom floor and an imagined loft area.


The IHAWKe students entered the next phase of testing and getting feedback from engineers from HNTB , the KU Civil, Environment, and Architectural Engineering and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Departments.


The next step is to incorporate the feedback from the engineering professionals and students, design it in Revit, and then begin building the house.  The students are planning on visiting school children in Houston and Puerto Rico for outreach, community service, and for testing their new prototype.  Engineering rocks!

Computer Science, diversity, Education, Engineering, STEM, Uncategorized

Conquer Your Classes by Learning How to Learn #STEM

What does playing with NERF toys have to do with “learning how to learn” technology and engineering?  Can making baskets in a NERF hoop teach you how to learn physics or calculus, the language of engineering?  Or can it help you do well in thermodynamics or data structures? Last week, we set out to find out in our IHAWKe Conquer Your Classes Funshop.  IHAWKe (Indigenous, Hispanic, African American, Women, KU Engineering) is the University of Kansas Engineering Diversity and Women’s Programs.

Our engineering and computing students began “learning how to learn” by forming a team to make NERF goals while racing against the clock and the other teams.  Learning how to learn begins with setting your learning, or academic, goals, and managing your time.

The students then discussed what are the obstacles they face that try to prevent them from reaching their academic goals. Some the “enemies” of their learning goals were dealing with stress, procrastination, their friends, and other distractions.  Being able to share their experiences and struggles with one another in a supportive environment showed the students that they weren’t alone.  The students competed by literally taking aim at targets that contained these “enemies” written in text on cups using a “NERF projectile flight apparatus”.

The bulk of the “funshop” consisted of the students learning a proven method for studying, or being ON PLAN, from Dr. Donna Johnson’s book, Guaranteed 4.0.  The method takes advantage of how the brain moves knowledge from short-term memory to long-term memory.  The key is working the plan consistently.  So what are the steps for being ON PLAN in a nutshell?

  • Reading the assignments and outlining the key concepts in “bullet points” before class
  • Attending class and alertly taking notes
  • Outlining the key concepts from the class notes you have taken
  • Doing the homework and outlining the key concepts after receiving it back
  • Seeing the professor every week during office hours
  • Keeping these 3 sets of notes with you and reviewing them often

Easy?  Time-consuming?  As Dr. Johnson puts it, you either pay now or pay later.  In the “typing, smartphone, Twitter, Google” age, we have forgotten how to learn and retain information.  We tend to somehow think this knowledge will instantaneously come from just typing our question into Google and expecting that knowledge to magically appear in your brain while taking the test. The real “magic” is reading, listening, reflecting, writing it down with pencil and paper and reviewing it.  Isn’t that how Einstein did it?


Computer Science, diversity, Education, Engineering, STEM, Technology

Reaching our Engineering and Computing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Goals In 2018 #Tech #STEM

In 2018, KU Engineering has ambitious diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. As part of the American Association of Engineering Education (ASEE) Deans Diversity Initiative, engineering deans across the country pledged to post their plans to increase the number of women and underrepresented minority students and faculty.

As part of this agreement, these institutions were to post their plans this year. Many institutions have yet to post their plans. If the Tech industry plans to diversify its workforce it has to start with graduating more women and minority engineers in our colleges and universities. See the University of Kansas School of Engineering ASEE Diversity plan here. Let’s hold each other accountable and work together to make these things happen in 2018.