Since 2012, thousands of kids from all over North Texas and beyond, ranging from ages five all the way to seventeen have traveled to the UT Dallas Computer Science department to explore the world of Computer Programming. To help accomplish this, over 90 UT Dallas computer science students have been involved and have had the opportunity to teach their coding skills to avid young campers over the eleven weeks of summer. These camps not only introduce children to the world of computing and inspire them, but they also help build the foundation needed for future successes in college STEM programs.
Over 200 computer camps are made available throughout the summer by the UT Dallas Center for Computer Science Education and Outreach (CCSEO), with each camp specifically designed to cater to students from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Instructors are trained on specific teaching methodologies for these camps. All of them follow a hands-on approach in their teaching to ensure children stay engaged throughout the sessions.
More than 5,000 K-12 students have attended the camps, clubs, after school programs, and workshops that the CCSEO program has offered at locations both on the UT Dallas campus as well as throughout the community since its inception. The program develops and delivers high-quality content that is specifically aimed at introducing children of all ages to computer programming and computational thinking. Through the dedicated support of UT Dallas CS faculty and students, who offer their expertise as instructors in these programs, these camps, clubs, and workshops provide state of the art exposure of the world of computer science to highly motivated children.
The UT Dallas Computer Science Department and State Farm Insurance jointly sponsor these outreach efforts. In 2015, the CCSEO received a $40k grant from State Farm Insurance to support UT Dallas in its efforts to foster STEM education among K-12 students through the Computer Science Education and Outreach Programs. Dr. Jey Veerasamy, director of the CCSEO, notes that “the grant from State Farm Insurance and their involvement in STEM education allows the UT Dallas Computer Science Department and the Center for Computer Science Education and Outreach to greatly expand and broaden K-12 programs to economically disadvantaged communities.” Dr. Veerasamy continued by saying, ” We will be able to provide critical resources towards equipment, and be able to accelerate the curriculum development for our workshops.”
The UT Dallas Computer Science Department is involved in numerous other outreach programs in addition to CCSEO. The Department often collaborates with organizations such as The National Center of Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) to offer coding camps specifically intended to empower Dallas-Fort Worth girls through opportunities, skill programs, mentorship, and an introduction to STEM careers, with a focus on Information Technology and Computer Science. This past summer, Saumya Rawat, a senior at Dallas’ School of Science and Engineering Magnet, worked with Dr. Janell Straach, a CS Professor and the Director of the UT Dallas Center for Engaging Women in Cyber Security, to offer a 3-day IT Empowerment For Her camp for 21 middle school girls from underrepresented areas in Dallas-Fort Worth. (Click here to read more) During the summer of 2015, the UT Dallas CS Department hosted two residential camps for young women: the NCWIT and Microsoft Research Sponsored Connect-Inspire-Guide Camp for Incoming UT Dallas CS/SE Female Freshmen and The Techy Girls Residential Camp for high school senior and junior girls. (Click here to read more)
These camps are beneficial not only for the campers, but also for the UT Dallas students who work as instructors affording them a way to build communication and mentoring skills, which will be useful in their careers. “Summer Camps provide an opportunity for both tutors and kids to contribute towards the evolution of Computer Science Society, depicting the true meaning of Outreach,” said Mohammed Ather Ahmed Shareef, a Computer Science Graduate Student, who worked as a coding instructor this summer. Ashkan Yousefpour, a Computer Science Ph.D. Student and the instructor for the Programming Contest Questions camp, noted, “Teaching high school and middle school students and communicating with them has been an amazing experience for me. Last year, Professor Raghavachari advised me, ‘it’s not always about the money or the benefit we get from teaching the camps. It’s about the students and giving back to the community as scholars.’ I believe that it is my responsibility as a scholar and a Ph.D. student to give back to the students as a volunteer teacher.”
Outreach camps are designed to cater to students with a broad age range, from kindergarten to twelfth grade. In order to ensure success, instructors are trained on specific teaching methodologies for these camps. They all follow a hands-on approach in their teaching to ensure children stay engaged throughout the sessions. “During the summer, we are competing with children’s video game time. We have to make coding as exciting as those games,” Veerasamy said. “If a course is enjoyable, learning happens automatically.” Vidya Mani, computer science graduate and outreach instructor, said her role as an instructor involves some creativity while designing her classes. “The (simple) PowerPoint way of teaching doesn’t really work. You have to give examples that are relevant to them,” Mani said. “In general, we pick more of game-based examples, something that they can play around with.”
Hiranya Kumar, a computer science graduate, has been associated with Outreach for over a year. He teaches elementary, as well as advanced, coding languages and said it was an excellent experience for him. “(The camp) is a good understanding for me about how the professional world works, how management works and what issues the process of organizing events can face,” Kumar said. He also said it is very rewarding when they receive positive responses from children and parents on their coding camps. “You feel like you have done something productive,” he said. “It is one of the merits of being an instructor.”
“As a public university, we should do more public good,” said Dr. Jey Veerasamy, director of CCSEO. “If we run a program like (CS Outreach), the whole community will know that we are here.” Dr. Veerasamy oversees multiple outreach programs aimed at introducing and encouraging computer programming skills in children in the Dallas area, including coding camps throughout the school year, during holiday breaks and summer. These include specialized camps and workshops focuing on cyber defense, robotics, game design, coding competitions and app development. The center also offers teacher training workshops and professional development programs for adults.
ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT
The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 2,400 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,000 master’s students, 150 Ph.D. students, 53 tenure-track faculty members and 38 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2017. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.