What if students from underresourced schools with diverse populations saw themselves as technology creators and inventors? Last week we invited 24 sophomore students from Kansas City, Kansas Schlagle High School to participate in our KUEST 10 program for a hands-on experience in computer programming and design thinking for community needs. These students had participated in our KUEST 9 program last year with about 280 other high school students.
Tackling Gun Violence With Tech
Some of the topics they tackled using their imagination and creativity were gun violence, crime, lack of school funding, poverty, and discriminating stereotypes. How did they prototype an engineering solution to tackle gun violence? Going through the design thinking process starting with empathy, they were able to brainstorm and come up with a solution. They “invented” and prototyped sensors for guns that would track when someone picked up a gun, the location of the gun, and the shots fired. These sensors would then be sent to authorities that monitor violence in their community and can respond with help if needed.
Learning to Code Against Poverty
Only three of the 24 students had experienced writing a computer program before. On this day, they learned how to write a program to calculate the future value of an investment of part of their salary as a future engineer using the Python programming language. The KUEST 10 students were shown how becoming an engineer and using their salary to invest in a retirement plan could very feasibly result in them retiring a millionaire. Not only did they learn the value of writing computer code, they saw its application to reducing poverty!
What About Robots?
The KUEST 10 students got to meet and interact with their first social robot. They were introduced to the concept of programming artificially intelligent robots, the Jibo, using the Scratch programming language. After all, in their lifetime, these students will live with autonomous robotic cars. Shouldn’t they understand how robots are programmed and have jobs that involve them designing and using robots?
The Gift of Imagination and Creation
Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Halliburton for funding this program.
About the Author: Dr. Andrew B. Williams is the Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive and Spahr Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the University of Kansas. Dr. Williams began and now directs the IHAWKe (Indigenous, Hispanic, African American, Women, KU Engineering) program and building on the 40+ year old Diversity and Women’s program at KU Engineering that first gave him an introduction to engineering several years ago as a first-generation, low-income college student.
Copyright 2018 Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D.