The Seth Bonder Camp Expands Reach and Representation
The Seth Bonder Camp in Computational and Data Science for Engineering is a five-day summer program for high school students. The camp is supported by the generous gifts of the Seth Bonder Foundation and led by Pascal Van Hentenryck, A. Russell Chandler III Chair and professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). Like last year, the camp was held online due to Covid-19, but Van Hentenryck leveraged the virtual format to significantly increase the number of students reached, especially among underrepresented minorities.
The camp’s curriculum featured several modules that were offered in four levels ranging from basic to advanced. The first module offered an introduction to the visual programming language Snap! and was followed by units in more advanced programming as well as computational data science, optimization, machine learning, and computational biology.
Van Hentenryck used a Marvel theme for the course material, which included a movie trailer-style introduction, the Avengers theme song as an intro to each lecture, and even wearing a Nick Fury costume while teaching. “The students become superheroes by learning how to code,” he explained.
Thanks to the flexibility of the online format, the program expanded to include five different versions of the camp. Two were were open specifically to students attending minority and rural high schools – one with Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta and a high school in Puerto Rico, and one with Banneker High School in Fulton County and Savannah High School.
Two other camps were offered in collaboration with Kids Teach Tech, a non-profit founded by Arjun Mulchandani, a student from California passionate about teaching other kids how to code. His team encompasses a community of children who create and teach programming classes to their peers, both in person and online, reaching youth not only across the United States but also internationally.
The first camp – exclusively for students from Kids Teach Tech – prepared them to deliver the material themselves. In the following camp session, those same students hosted their own Seth Bonder Camp, in conjunction with the Georgia Tech team, UC Berkeley Engineering and the Urban League of Greater San Francisco Bay Area. The camp was a huge success, and over 80% of the attendees were underrepresented students.
“The partnership with Kids Teach Tech enabled us to reach students in California and leverage the existing ecosystem there, indicating that the Seth Bonder Camp model is replicable and can grow organically,” said Van Hentenryck.
The final Seth Bonder Camp was open to all high school students. Total enrollment across all five camps reached 150 students, a huge leap from previous years that averaged 20-30 participants. To help with the camp, Van Hentenryck has a team of post-docs, Ph.D. students, and undergraduate students who serve as teaching assistants and are supported by Seth Bonder Fellowships.
Already, the camp has inspired high schoolers to pursue engineering. Neil Barry, who attended the camp in 2019, is now a rising second-year ISyE student conducting research with Van Hentenryck. “The Seth Bonder camp was a great experience for me because it showed me how useful and rewarding ISyE can be,” said Barry. “I grew more interested in the power of using data to make informed decisions, especially with computer programming. Professor Van Hentenryck was engaging as a teacher and is helpful as a research advisor.”
Next year, Van Hentenryck wants to transform the Seth Bonder camp into a longitudinal program that offers increasingly sophisticated camps by secondary school grade, with the goal of keeping high school students interested over time. He is also working on offering the camp throughout the school year and says that partnering with high schools and organizations like Kids Teach Tech is key to the future success of the camp.
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.
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