Faculty from the Department of Computer Science & Engineering are preparing to host AI for St. Louis camp, a week-long program that aims to introduce middle- and high-school students to artificial intelligence and computing.

The camp is in its second year following a successful pilot program last summer. While programming content will change, the goal of introducing students to diverse topics in computing will remain. Alvitta Ottley, assistant professor of computer science & engineering, will lead the 2022 program.

“Although most of us use computers every day, many people still see computer science and coding as scary and foreign,” Ottley said. “With this year's summer camp, our goal is to make it familiar and fun for the campers. We hope that this experience will boost confidence and open new opportunities for them.”

Last year’s camp was funded through a grant received by Yevgeniy Vorobeychik, associate professor of computer science & engineering, and organized by William Yeoh, associate professor of computer science & engineering. Marion Neumann, senior lecturer, and Athena Tabakhi, lecturer, developed the camp’s final curriculum in collaboration with the Institute for School Partnership, and instructed students.

“The main point of the camp was to talk about AI and how we can responsibly build AI systems,” Neumann said. “We wanted to not just focus on programming robots but also emphasize that these systems are employed in the real world and used by real people.”

While open to all students, the camp targeted female students and students from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM.

“One of our goals is to get these students to pursue computer science or AI,” Neumann said. “Some students might not know that's even an option, and, though ours was a small summer camp, it showed them what’s out there and that there are people who look like them involved.”

During the week, students took part in projects and coding challenges that introduced them to robotics and AI concepts such as machine learning. On the final day of the camp, students were invited to develop their own AI programs for the robot to interact with a user. Examples of what students created include a “crime bot” that could detect and secure a crime scene and a program that made music recommendations based on the user’s mood.

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