Students celebrate Math and Computer Science Awareness Day

April 3, 2012 at 8:01 p.m.
Updated April 3, 2012 at 11:04 p.m.

At $500 a kit, this is not your everyday child's robotic kit, but one built for advanced high school students.

At $500 a kit, this is not your everyday child's robotic kit, but one built for advanced high school students.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

Within just seconds, the race was over.

The finale may not have seemed dramatic to the dozens of bystanders, but to the robotics students, the finish line meant a semester's worth of work had paid off.

"Success!" Johanna Hoang, a sophomore at St. Joseph High School yelled, throwing her arms in the air.

She and her teammate David Du, another St. Joseph sophomore, had just kicked back to watch a robot they'd programmed navigate a maze all on its own.

It was Math and Computer Science Awareness day at the University of Houston-Victoria and Victoria College, and some 120 students had gathered to watch the culmination of the six robotics students' work.

A $20,000 grant from Alcoa sponsored the semester-long robotics course at UHV as well as the afternoon of all things math and computers. The afternoon featured math and computer tests, a game show, demonstrations and a panel of engineers from Alcoa who discussed careers in the field.

Laurel Cahill, community affairs supervisor at Alcoa, said the project proved a fit for Alcoa's vision to advance each generation.

"The combination of robotics, math and science appealed to Alcoa," she said. "These are the innovators for the future."

And the robotics course instructor at UHV, Alireza Tavakkoli, called his six high school students some of the brightest in the area.

While the rest of the crowd had moved on from the maze race, the robotics students stuck around, troubleshooting the robots that were having difficulty navigating.

"They have a good idea of problem solving. You don't just program," said their other instructor, Amjad Nusayr. "You have to develop efficient and effective problem solving techniques."

Though his robot had used its ultrasonic sensors to circle around the maze walls the first time, Du took to tweaking the machine even more.

He said it took 30 tries to get the programming just right. But for someone who plans to get a degree in computer science or engineering, the challenge was nothing but rewarding.

"I think not many people have the opportunity to take these courses. It gives me a unique insight into the future of robotics," Du said.



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