AI4OPT Sets Stage for Future Engineers and Leaders Through Seth Bonder Camp
When Alexandria Sweeny, better known as Alex, considered what she wanted to accomplish before graduating from Drew Charter School, the then high school junior set two goals: complete her engineering internship and make a positive impact.
She did both while strengthening her coding knowledge during her time as a camper and mentor at the Seth Bonder Camp in Computational and Data Science for Engineering (SBC).
“I did it when it was fully virtual, and it was definitely an experience,” said Sweeny who spent a week being introduced to computing and data science where she performed virtual activities, last June.
The camp, which is offered either as an online course or on-campus summer camp at Georgia Tech, is designed to build students’ problem-solving and analytical skills while furthering their interest in computer science as a potential career. It is also part of AI4OPT’s mission to inspire young Georgians to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
AI4OPT hosted its first in-person summer camp at Georgia Tech in June. The camp brought together 60 students from schools across Georgia including Drew Charter, Banneker High School, and Westlake High School.
Sweeny was asked to return to this particular camp—but this time, as a mentor.
“Of course, I said yes, because it was something fun that I could do over the summer preparing for college without it being too hefty,” said Sweeny. “It was something that I felt prepared for from attending the camp.”
Responses like Sweeny’s motivates SBC Site Managers like Reem Khir to introduce more bright minds to the camp centered around computer programming logic, programming language for AI, and teamwork.
“We expose them [high school students] to certain types of education areas like Twitter analysis, how to solve a sudoku, and even computational biology, if they wanted to consider a career in biology,” said Khir, who joined the camp last year to help students with assignments. This year, she took on even bigger leadership role by maintaining and observing two camps and facilitating 50 students and seven teaching assistants (TAs). She worked under a ‘student to student and student to TA’ interactive structure so that each participant took away a useful skill in data science.
“It’s the time where high school students start forming opinions and decisions about the career path they want to pursue,” said Khir. “The steppingstone is their college education, and we can help students in that period.”
AI4OPT Will Acquire and Advance Seth Bonder Camp
AI4OPT is working to adopt a short-term system used to track students after the camp. The institute wants to build up the system to see majors, colleges, and career paths each student has vowed to pursue before they head off to college or the workforce.
“This is a critical period for students,” said Khir. “It’s a time where students start thinking about a major for college and later impacting the next 20 or 30 years of their life. Being a part of that is very unique in terms of creating a positive influence in the next generation.”
AI4OPT is taking the lead over the SBC to offer the initiative more organizational support as the program has seen tremendous growth and has become a much broader initiative. The Seth Bonder Foundation, which first introduced the camp to those ages 10-18, will continue to fund the camp now more targeted towards high school students interested in engineering, but do not have access to computer science and/or data science in their middle and high schools.
“A lot of the different communities are not exposed to this and may never see this opportunity. The Seth Bonder Camp exposes high school students to AI opportunities and gives them skills to successfully enter the field of STEM with confidence,” said Professor Pascal Van Hentenryck, who’s brought his data sciences skills and knowledge to Georgia Tech and leads both AI4OPT and the SBC.
AI4OPT is in transition to lead the SBC to offer more organizational support as the program sees tremendous growth. The research Institute will expand the longitudinal camps to engage middle and high school students in these topics, while also bringing AI education and research programs to HBCU’s and Hispanic-serving colleges throughout the nation, addressing the widening gap in job opportunities.
Though Sweeny has transitioned away from coding and transcended into research, she never stopped setting goals even now as a first-year biomedical engineering major at Georgia Tech.
“Do anything you can to take it [the SBC] even if you don't want to go into coding,” said Sweeny. “It is a good way to meet new people learn new skills, it is something that you don't necessarily have to have a love for coding to have to do it.”
To learn more about the Seth Bonder Camp in Computational and Data Science for Engineering and to partner with the camp, visit sethbondercamp.isye.gatech.edu.
(Writer’s note: This article is part of a series highlighting AI4OPT members, students, education programs and professional development testimonies.)