July 3, 2005 — A collection of 19 young and enthusiastic minds recently took part in a 10-day summer enrichment program at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus, where students were challenged with the task of building their own robot. Called Intellect to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), the program, held from June 20 to July 1, was the result of the dedication of two UVI professors who wanted to help foster critical thinking on the part of students.
According to Dr. Michelle Peterson, a UVI professor and instructor of the computer programming language called NetLogo, the two-week program was aimed to teach the youngsters how to create and program their own computer games, as well as how to build and program their own motorized robot. The kids learned the NetLogo programming code in the morning, and robotics was taught in the afternoon.
"We wanted to target ninth-, and 10th-grade students from all schools throughout St. Croix who are interested in science and math. However, we do have one eighth-grader among the group," said Peterson.
During the closing ceremonies on Friday, the high school students were able to make presentations of the items they built from the ground up.
Robotics instructor Dr. Velma Tyson said that the young people built their robots from lego blocks and motors that they programmed on their own.
Many of the NetLogo presentations included demonstrations of games like "Ants," which combined getting an ant through a maze with pop-up math questions.
Another video game was "Mongoose on the Run." This particular project was done by the entire class and consists of several game levels in which the mongoose tries to escape from potholes, speeding cars, pieces of cane, and even a man with a machete.
In the robotics presentations, the demonstrations were of robotic plows with claws, with some of them going through an obstacle course.
According to one of the student presenters, some of the robots that are presented are miniature replicas of robots that are collecting data on the moon.
According to another student, the youngsters had to program each turn and stop with precise calculations and used different motors and sensors to make the robots work.
The program included brief acknowledgments by Deanna James, associate executive director of St. Croix Foundation.
"We are glad to be able to work in harmony and hope to have a long and successful partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands. It has been our pleasure," said James.
The students also received awards and acknowledgments; the award for the Most Helpful went to Floyd Fleming; and the Most Dedicated went to Shamoy Garcia.
The students themselves also had a little surprise of their own for the teachers. A group of five girls sang their rendition of a popular reggae song but changed the words to reflect their feelings towards their two teachers and the two UVI teachers assistants, Saida Willocks and Racley Hercules.
Another student, Floyd Fleming, read a passage from his journal that expressed his feeling of gratitude towards his teachers. In acknowledging Dr. Tyson, Fleming said that she has given us "character on our noble journey."
According to the lone eighth-grader at the event, Keywan Johnson, The 10-day program "was the bomb!"
Another student, Hadassah Emanuel, said that the program was exciting, and she learned a lot. "It [computer programming] was hard work and sometimes frustrating, but you felt good when you finally got your way," Emmanuel said.
During the closing the ceremony, Tyson encouraged the young people to continue with their educational goals in hopes that this program would help with math, problem solving, and strategizing.
"These children have a head start if they're looking toward a career in computers or engineering. This program will make a difference in their lives. A seed is planted and it will begin to grow," said Tyson.
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