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Summer learning: pre-college students spend time on campus through diversity of camps, workshops

July 25, 2013

Ready, Set, Robots! (June 20-21, June 27-28)

Who knew that all it takes to get Indiana school kids getting excited about math, science and computer programming is a few robots?

For the sixth straight year, Indiana University’s Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) hosted Ready, Set, Robots!, a computer programming workshop for area children in grades 7-12. PTI offered two sessions this year: June 20-21 and June 27-28. Both workshops took place at IU Bloomington’s Innovation Center.

These hands-on workshops required no special prerequisites or programming skills -- just a curious mind and an interest in technology. Participants learned basic computer programming, as they worked in teams alongside IU technology professionals to command LEGO® Mindstorms® robots in a simulation of a Mars rover mission. The workshops finished with Mission Competition, a friendly contest among the groups’ robots that was open to parents, friends, and the general public.

Jacob Lovrinic, age 13, was back for his second robot camp this summer. The eighth-grader is part of his middle school’s robotics team, which is ranked among the state’s top 10. (Go, Center Grove Middle School North!) This year’s workshop gave Jacob a chance to build on his robotics knowledge -- and to show those skills off to an audience.

“I really liked the competition on the last day, especially when we put all the robots from all the teams together at the end,” Jacob said. “Our robot had a dance program that kept it from getting knocked over. And processing numerical variables through mathematical equations to get yes/no logic was challenging and fun.”

There’s lots of learning going on at Ready, Set, Robots!, but the focus is on fun -- and future career skills.

“A main goal of the camp is to give young people a chance to gain real programming experience in a group setting,” said Robert Ping, education and outreach manager for IU's UITS Research Technologies division, which supports the workshops. “The kids work in teams and learn that in order to be successful they need to discuss ideas -- they can't just work alone on the computer. Learning how to express your own ideas and also be a good listener are skills they can carry forward to any career."

And that is music to any parent’s ears.

Jacob’s mom, Joanne Lovrinic, enjoyed seeing how much he had advanced and could contribute to his workshop team. She said she would recommend the experience to parents. “If your child is interested in robotics or thinks he or she might be, this is a great opportunity to explore and begin to develop some skills, even if he or she has never tried it before,” Lovrinic said.

“Although this workshop emphasizes the programming rather than the building aspect, it also teaches teamwork, creativity, and communication, which are increasingly important in many work roles. And the staff is excellent.”

IU Project Seed Program (June 3-July 26)

For eight weeks, four high school students studied in research labs with faculty members from the Department of Psychological and Brain sciences at IU. Their internships are part of the inaugral IU Project SEED Program.

On July 19, the interns presented their research results at a poster session at the Indiana Memorial Union in preparation for the 41st Project Seed Poster Session at 4 p.m. on July 25 at the Atrium of the Van Nuys Medical Sciences building at the IU School of Medicine.

Sharlene Newman, associate professor at the psychological and brain sciences department, collaborated with the Indianapolis Project Seed to create the IU Project Seed, which aims to offer university-level research experience to high school students interested in science and engineering. Indianapolis Project Seed was started in 1973 and annually features about 75 interns with the help of sponsors.

Sharlene’s goal is to expand the program at IU Bloomington and to obtain more financial support.

“Our hope is that these students choose careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics,” Sharlene said. “Some kids who grew up in Bloomington have never even been on the IU campus. There’s a difference between reading a textbook and learning about science first-hand in a lab, and these internships give high school students a chance to do that.”

Even though the program is open to all qualified high school students, Project Seed targets economically disadvantaged high school students, but they must have a good grade point average, recommendation letters as well as least one high-school level biology class under their belt.

William Hetrick, a professor and chair of the department of psychological and brain sciences at IU, mentored Morgan Newman, a junior at Bloomington High School North and Sharlene’s daughter. Their research focused on validating a new MRI safe eye-blink detection system used to study eye-blink conditioning, which is an elementary form of learning.

Although the high school interns may not have completed an entire research project in their eight-week stint, Hetrick said the students have come to understand the theories on which the research is based, the methods necessary to execute the research and the meticulous procedures that must be followed to conduct top-tier research.

“Here’s the thing that’s really exciting to me as a mentor: seeing young students light up and become enthusiastic about scientific inquiry,” he said. “And Morgan was every bit of that this summer. It’s that contagious enthusiasm for discovering something brand new that is such a pleasure to observe in young students. It reminds me of the excitement that I felt when I began to fall in love with science.”

Balfour Scholars (July 22-26)

About 90 incoming high school seniors are on the Indiana University campus this week for a new program designed to help them discover their academic and career interests -- and help them succeed at pursuing those interests.

Students arrived Sunday for the first Pre-College Academy of the Balfour Scholars Program. The program is designed to provide students from underrepresented groups with support beginning the summer after their junior year of high school and continuing through their senior year. For those who attend IU Bloomington, the support extends throughout their college education.

“We're excited to welcome the inaugural class of the Balfour Pre-College Academy to Bloomington campus,” said Christina Wright Fields, the director of the Balfour Scholars Program. She added that participating students come from a variety of backgrounds, bringing different perspectives to the academy.

The Balfour Scholars Program is a project of the Center for P-16 Research and Collaboration at the IU School of Education in collaboration with the IU Office of Enrollment Management, the Career Development Center and the Office of Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs.

Throughout this week, the Balfour Scholars are taking part in sessions focused on identity development, personal growth, potential college majors and resulting careers, while also learning more about the IU campus itself. The introduction to college even includes sample college classes in areas such as law, psychology and sociology, as well as sessions on financial literacy and scholarships. Students also participate in a campus fair, tour the Indiana Memorial Union and visit the IU Art Museum and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

On Monday morning, participants discussed what they foresaw as their ideal job and why -- as well as what they considered to be a less-than-ideal job and why. To help inventory their own thoughts, the Balfour Scholars filled out a “values worksheet” to put on paper some of the things they are shooting for in a career. The goal is for Balfour Scholars to develop a personal “road map” of available IU Bloomington resources they would access as undergraduates to help them achieve their goals.

The Balfour Scholars Program is possible because of an $800,000 grant from the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, Bank of America, N.A. Trustee. The Balfour Foundation has a history of providing financial support for programs that promote college access, readiness, and success for underrepresented students. In 2010, the foundation funded a scholarship program at IUB for high-achieving students from under-represented populations.

The students come from around the state of Indiana, though recruiting particularly focused on schools in districts that are P-16 Center “Pathways Partnership” schools, such as Gary Community School Corp., Pike Township schools in Indianapolis and South Bend Community Schools. Pathways schools have partnered with the P-16 Center to work toward improving graduation and college-going rates and better prepare students for 21st century careers.

The week’s events will wrap up with banquet July 25 at the Indiana Memorial Union before a couple of final sessions on Friday morning. Balfour Scholars Program and IU staff will follow up with students later in their upcoming senior year.

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