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Introductory computer science concepts course to feature dancing robots in spring 2010
By Melissa Vasquez
Posted: 09/23/2009
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Starting in spring 2010, students at The University of Texas-Pan American will get a chance to build their own mobile robots during a special section of an introduction to computer science course, which will be offered primarily to females and non-computer science majors.


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The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) recently awarded Professor Pearl Brazier, director of the Computer Engineering Program and undergraduate coordinator for computer science, and Dr. Artem Chebotko, assistant professor in computer science, $15,000 to fund a proposal titled “Dancing Robots Introduction to Computer Science.” The award, which will provide funds for a year, will redesign the current “CSCI 1360 Intro to Computer Science Concepts” course offered at UTPA.

“We want to attract more women to computer science and programming projects, which tend to be more male oriented,” Brazier said.

UTPA was one of three Round 5 winners of the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund, which is funded by Microsoft Research, to provide U.S. academic institutions with start-up funds to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. Other winners included The University of Pennsylvania and Waukesha County Technical College.

The CSCI 1360 course is currently targeted to students without prior programming experience who may be interested in computer science. With the course redesign Brazier and Chebotko are hoping to attract more women and underrepresented groups into considering a degree in computer science and/or computer engineering.

The “Dancing Robots Introduction to Computer Science” concept will offer UTPA students the chance to work with LEGO® Mindstorms robots while learning programming concepts, teamwork, and computing in the context of real-world problems.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words and hence the visual aspect of the programming experience,” Brazier said. “I believe the robots will give an immediate visual feedback on the program and will enhance the learning environment for the students.”

The course will also fulfill the computer literacy general education requirement Brazier said. Brazier and Chebotko will recruit 20 students to participate in the course with preference given to women and underrepresented groups. Another course will be offered in the summer of 2010.

In addition, computer science undergraduate students will be hired and volunteer student mentors will be recruited from the UTPA Association for Computing Machinery student chapter to assist in the course and provide a peer development environment.

For more information and to register for the course, contact Brazier at 956/381-3455 or by e-mail at brazier@utpa.edu.