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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Native American high school students learn robot technology

Native American high school students from New Mexico and Arizona have been building robots to learn more about the computer science field at a New Mexico State University summer program.

From left to right, Kim Wood, a junior at Piedra Vista High School in Farmington, and Leslie Eskeets, a junior at Valley Academy in Albuquerque, work a robot which they will program to recognize and maneuver around obstacles. Woods and Eskeets participated in New Mexico State University's Native American Computer Science Camp. (NMSU photo by Meghann Dallin)

Twenty students got an introduction to college life and the computer science field in the Native American Computer Science Camp. For three weeks the students have been living in university dorms and taking classes in computer science, math and English.

One classroom project involved assembling and programming small robots that use two types of sensors to navigate -- infrared sensors to see with and contact sensor whiskers for feeling the location of obstacles.

The robots gave the students immediate feedback on the computer programs they wrote, said Rick Vinyard, a computer science graduate student who taught the robot technology to the students.

"Instead of just seeing numbers change on a screen they can see a physical change in the robot," Vinyard said. "In working with the robots we hope the students will see that computer science is not just about sitting in front of a screen all day."

The camp, which concludes this weekend, is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Program Coordinator Alicia Morales said the overall goal is to encourage Native American students to earn degrees in computer science.

"As of right now there are no Native Americans that we know of who hold doctorates in computer science and our long term goal is to change that," Morales said. "One of the biggest benefits to the students is being taught by college professors and the confidence it builds in the students. Students leave the program with a sense that they can do college-level work."

Leslie Eskeets, a junior at Valley Academy in Albuquerque, said her participation in the program opened her eyes to the wide range of opportunities in the technology fields and gave her a sense of what it is like to be in college.

"We stay in the dorms and there are tons of distractions there to keep you from doing your homework, but unlike home, there is nobody here to tell you to do it," Eskeets said. "I learned there is a different level of responsibility that comes with being on your own and going to college."

For more information call Morales at (505) 646-3723.

Photo is available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/eskeets.jpg.
For a print, call (505) 646-3221.