Program designed to spark student interest in tech careers

By Lesia Winiarskyj

Tenth-graders from Wilby High School in Waterbury compete against a preprogrammed robotic arm in a race to assemble one of three puzzles.

Freshmen and sophomores from East Hartford High School, New Britain High School, and Waterbury's Wilby High School kicked off a new year of Cyber-Challenge activities at the Connecticut Science Center last month. Made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Cyber-Challenge is part of a multi-year program: Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST): designed to boost students' engagement and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The Fourth R: Robots

In two rounds of workshops, held Nov. 5 and Nov. 19 at the science center's various labs and galleries, 60 students programmed humanoid robots using smartphone apps, explored how robotic technology has revolutionized healthcare, and pitted autonomous robots in a race against a mouse in a maze.

"Cyber-Challenge reaches out to young people who are starting to think seriously about their academic interests and careers," says Judy Resnick, executive director of CBIA's Education Foundation, which administers the ITEST grant. "Our goal is to get them motivated for Advanced Placement STEM classes as they progress through high school. We do that by showing them some real, hands-on applications of STEM, things they won't experience in a textbook. Things that make them go 'Wow!'"

The Importance of STEM

Days before the Cyber-Challenge kickoff, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced the launch of Connecticut's Innovation Ecosystem, a public-private partnership to spur breakthrough technologies and product development in Connecticut.

"The governor's initiative underscores the value of STEM to our economy and its importance in workforce development," says Resnick.

Explorations in Robotic Technologies workshops were presented by CBIA's Education Foundation and made possible with funding from Verizon.

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer and editor at cbia. She can be reached at lesia.winiarskyj@cbia.com.