South Dakota Gear UP is an outstanding program run at the South Dakota Schools of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. This year a programming mini course was added to the mix for the group of rising freshmen who make up the newest cohort of this four year program. It was decided to teach them some C# and give them a feel for the Imagine Cup which is a major international software competition involving entrants from over 100 countries. Now you can’t expect rising 9th graders to do after 3 and a half weeks what computer science majors and even graduate students do. But what you can do is ask them to create a project about solving the world’s great problems using what they do know. As an extra incentive one of the senior members of the Microsoft academic team, Dr. Bradley Jensen, arraigned for some prizes. You can see the winning team holding them in the picture below. I am told that an Xbox with Kinect is considered a good prize by high school students.
That is Dr Bradley Jensen on the left in the back and me on the right. The woman in the middle(Dr. Antonette (Toni) Logar, Professor, Mathematics & Computer Science Department; Interim Dean of Graduate Education) and the man next to me (Mr. Judd Nielsen, Regional Development, SDSMT Foundation) were judges along with Bradley and myself. Interestingly enough two of the top three teams were all girls. We did not know anything about the teams during the judging so this was a surprise to us when we finished. Girls are slightly over represented in the cohort but even still this was encouraging. One boy we ran in to after the awards were given out was excited because his sister won an Xbox with Kinect. My hope is that he, and many more like him, will be motivated to try and learn some computer skills on their own though.
The plan is to continue this program though the four year cycle so that this year’s class, and following classes, will get a short course every summer that builds on what was learned the previous year. These students are from schools that generally do not have the resources to teach programming. A large percentage of these students come from Native American Reservation schools who struggle more than most for resources. This summer opportunity is important to them and the results show that it pays off. I am hoping that this programming opportunity opens one more door or one look in to one more option that they may not have realized they have.
BTW I want to recognize the students who taught this mini course this summer (all from SDSMT).
- Zachary Boyd, Sophomore, Industrial Engineering & Engineering Management
- Shawn McCarther, Sophomore, Metallurgical Engineering
- Jonathan Lu, BS in Computer Science, May 2011, now a graduate student I believe
Zach and Shawn are graduates of the SD GEAR UP Program: These guys did an outstanding job of not just teaching the course but supporting and encouraging their students. I t was a pleasure to work with them in helping to prepare them. Clearly SD Mimes attracts and educates great people.