I3 Program for High School, Elementary Students Goes Beyond Computing Skills

December 2, 2013

Computer science major Stephanie Su offers three simple words of advice for high school students considering the College of Computing's I3 program.

"Go for it!"

For Su, it makes clear sense that any student with an interest in computing should enroll in I3 — Imagine, Investigate and Innovate. The program is a series of free after-school activities designed to introduce young people to computer science as a college major, a career or even as a complement to another interest.

Students in the I3 program learn real-world programming skills on devices and robots such as the one above.

The two-year-old program, which maintains partnerships with several Atlanta public high schools, is aimed at freshmen and sophomores but is open to any student enrolled in a secondary school in the Atlanta area. 

Conducted on the Georgia Tech campus over 32 weeks through the fall and spring semesters, I3 combines learning with hands-on activities. Tech students and professors lead the weekly, two-and-a-half hour sessions. Dinner is provided, and all materials required for the program are supplied by the College at no charge to participants.

"In the I3 program, you're given so many resources and so much opportunity to grow not only your computing skills, but you as a person," said Su, a graduate of Lovejoy High School in south metro Atlanta and an I3 alumna. She said her participation in the program influenced her decision to major in computer science at Georgia Tech. Su is still involved in I3, as a mentor, assisting the next wave of technology-savvy students.

Students in the I3 program learn to imagine, investigate and innovate in a collaborative fashion.

"I wanted to give back to the program because I learned so much from it," she said. "It opened my eyes to a lot of college and career choices and helped me figure out what I want to do with my life."

I3 is composed of three phases:

• Imagine. During the six to eight weeks of Imagine, students learn about the basics of computer science through lectures and discussions in a classroom setting. The classes are taught by Tech students and cover such topics as robotics, databases and algorithms.

"We help our students recognize the many ways computers impact their daily lives, so they begin to see computing and computer science in a larger context," said Chanteal Edwards, I3 program coordinator and a Tech alumna with a degree in psychology. "We encourage them to imagine some of the possible future applications of technology and then assist them in coming up with a specific application or problem that can be addressed with computer science."

Through small group discussions and one-on-one mentoring with Georgia Tech student facilitators, each I3 participant roughs out an idea for a computer-based application or product. At the end of the Imagine period, the students invite their parents to attend a showcase event where the ideas are presented.

• Investigate. The second portion of the I3 program, which begins around the middle of fall semester and lasts into the spring, is taught by Assistant Dean for Outreach, Enrollment and Community Cedric Stallworth. Here the ideas conceived in Imagine begin to take shape. Students are taught sophisticated skills such as how to perform drag-and-drop programming and how to construct databases and a basic web page. They also learn the fundamentals of circuitry.

Applying their new knowledge, students build rudimentary prototypes of their concepts. They also develop a business case and a step-by-step road map for producing the product. The entire package is unveiled at another showcase, attended by parents, friends, teachers and other invited guests.

• Innovate. During the Innovate phase, participants acquire more advanced skills in electronics as they build a working prototype of their invention.

Cedric Stallworth, assistant dean for Outreach, Enrollment and Community, lectures I3 students about core concepts involving programming robots.

The weekly sessions are held in one of the college's research and development labs. The students work in both small groups and one-on-one with a mentor who answers questions, offers personal guidance and facilitates the process.

I3 creations have ranged from flying machines to remote-controlled mechanical devices to a universal game controller. One student with an interest in fashion even developed a "cozy coat," a heated garment designed to keep anemic people warm.

"We showed her how to program tiny microprocessors called LilyPads that she sewed inside a coat she designed," Edwards said. "The LilyPads measure your body temperature and then regulate the amount of heat they send throughout the coat."

The moral of the story, Edwards noted, is that even if this young lady doesn't attend Georgia Tech or pursue computer science as a major, she understands the transformative role computer science can play in a seemingly unrelated area.

"And because of that, down the road she may achieve even better things within her field."

A remarkable 90 percent of the students who enroll in I3 complete the program, according to Edwards. She attributes the high retention rate to an I3 structure that makes learning personalized and fun.

"We get to know each student individually," she said, "and we work very hard to tailor our activities to meet the students' individual interests, needs and expectations. We also do our best to make our students feel welcome and comfortable, like they're already part of the Georgia Tech community."

For I3 graduates who elect to attend Georgia Tech, the program provides a head start on campus life.

"They're making friends with other I3 participants who may end up at Tech as well as with the Tech student facilitators," Edwards said, "so when they come to campus as students themselves, they'll already have a support structure of a dozen or more people."

Su agreed.

"I3 is a great way to meet people and begin to develop a network. And where else would you get the chance to work one-on-one with the assistant dean of the College of Computing?” she said. "It's is a wonderful opportunity, and I totally encourage it."

For more information, contact Chanteal Edwards at chanteal [dot] edwards [at] cc [dot] gatech [dot] edu

Click here to view more photos.