Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT and U.S. Army host STEM summer camp focused on hands-on experiences for middle schoolers

Rong Hua Wang

A group of middle schoolers attending the Gains in Engineering, Math and Science program gathered in the field outside the University’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus, circling a Texas Robotics autonomous vehicle.

After a crash course in robot navigation showing off the robot’s hardware, Blake Anderson, Texas Robotics research associate, said he drove the vehicle around the field to demonstrate its turns and spins for the students, just one of the many lessons the students learned at the STEM-based summer camp.

“I hope (the students) are getting exposed to a wide range of STEM fields,” Anderson said. “Then it might spark some interest in one or more of them that they would then pursue once they go home from the camp.”

After starting as a virtual program in 2020, GEMS hosted 35 students in June and July at two four-day camps to teach students about robotics, engineering, AI and other STEM topics, showing them the possibilities for a career in these fields.

The GEMS camp is one of the U.S. Army Research Lab’s outreach programs. It is one of many collaborations between the University and the Army Research Lab South, headquartered at Pickle Research Campus, said Shannon Strank, deputy for Army Research Lab South and assistant director for the Center for Electromagnetics at the University.

“A lot of these students have already piqued interest in STEM of some sort, and by accessing GEMS they have the opportunity to work along with some of our Army scientists,” said Corine Romero, program coordinator for GEMS.

Strank said the course prioritizes experiential learning, combining hands-on activities with demonstrations of real-life applications for students to see the technology they’re working on at a larger scale.

“We try to bring them complementary information in a number of different ways, recognizing that not every student learns the same way,” Strank said.

GEMS partnered with AutoAuto, an educational program that provides small autonomous vehicles for students to program through the coding platform Python.

“They’ve got an actual robot that they’re programming, which helps to bring it home for a lot of students,” Strank said. “When they put in a piece of code and actually get to see how the car reacts to that code, that helps them connect the dots in many ways.”

Strank and her team connect the small-scale vehicles students program with real-world implementations by bringing in Army researchers who work on some of their autonomous vehicles, teaching the students about the challenges of attempting human-to-robot interaction.

Romero said the Girl Scouts robotics team showed off their robots for the students, along with Texas Robotics.

In addition to hands-on learning about technology in specific fields, Strank said they invited experts from both the Army and the University to talk to the students about how a particular scientific field shapes their job, helping students envision how careers in these sectors could look.

“How do you pick what you want to be when you grow up if you don’t get the chance to experience as much as possible?” Strank said. “(GEMS) is broadening that perspective on what science can be.”

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About the Contributor
Rong Hua Wang, Senior Comics Illustrator
Rong Hua is a second year student studying Computer Science and Arts and Entertainment Technologies. This is her second semester as the Senior Comics Illustrator; previously, she was an Opinion Illustrator during Fall 2021. Loving all things creative, she enjoys doodling and crocheting in her free time.