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Onward and Upward with STEM: RaD Lab hosts high schoolers for summer course in all things tech

Micah Moten, left, of Burke High School, and Korey James of Central High School, work on building a small robot during a STEM course at the RaD Lab, July 2017.Even in this age of clicking keyboards and screen taps, the eight tech-savvy high school students spending part of their summer in a hands-on, cutting-edge digital classroom at Creighton University found themselves in need of pens on a recent class project.

Coding a small, four-wheeled robot they’d spent the better part of two days building, the early stages of getting the vehicle moving might have required a little old-fashioned work in ink and paper — jotting down a few scraps of code to remember — but when it comes to the 21st century, these digital natives are writing their stories in bytes and lines of Linux. It’s all possible thanks to Creighton’s RaD Lab, the University’s center for technological innovation — RaD being shorthand for research and development. For the past six weeks, the lab has become something of a technological playground and a digital hive for the students.

“It’s awesome being here,” said Micah Moten, a student at Omaha Burke High School. “I’ve always been interested in technology. I’ve built a few little games here and there. But to be able to take a class in it and to do it with all of this equipment around us, it beats just tinkering around. I’m learning so much more here.”

The course is part of Creighton’s Upward Bound program and is the first Upward Bound curriculum the University has designed to fit in the RaD Lab. Kathy Craig, an innovation analyst in the RaD Lab, said Upward Bound — a federally funded program connecting high schoolers with academic opportunities to help them acquire the skills for success in a four-year college setting — is looking for more in the realm of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community outreach opportunities.

Sofia Hermosilla, left, of Central High School, helps put the finishing touches on a robot with Allen Surrett of Bellevue West High School during a STEM course hosted by the Creighton RaD Lab, July 2017.“We were happy to get it going,” Craig said. “It was a perfect fit for the work we do in the RaD Lab and I think the kids have enjoyed the opportunity to see what we have Creighton has to offer. We want them to be unafraid to try new things, so it’s been a lot of fun to see where some of their interests have taken them.”

The students took part in five projects over the six-week course. In addition to building and programming the robot, the students also worked with holograms, tried out augmented reality and virtual reality, studied HTML and created a photosphere with different images from around the Creighton campus.

While he can already claim the construction of a computer on his résumé, Allen Surrett, a student from Bellevue West High School, said the course at the RaD Lab was deepening and broadening his knowledge of computer programming.

“It’s really expanding everything I’ve learned about before,” said Surrett, who plans to attend college and study computer science. “I love this place. There’s so much to work with and to check out. It’s given me a lot of ideas for what’s possible in technology.”

Jaydon Value, a student at Omaha Central High School, had gotten into robotics as a middle schooler. The experience building and programming the robot, she said, had rekindled her interest. “It’s something to explore,” Value said.

Jaydon Value, of Omaha Central High School, works on programming a robot she built during a STEM course hosted by Upward Bound and Creighton's RaD Lab, July 2017.“The whole experience has been wonderful, very cool. This is a place for innovators, where you can try out new ideas and build on them. It’s been a fun couple of weeks and it’s really led me to consider what more I could do in science or technology. I’d like to do something in the human sciences, but with a crossover to technology. It’s something we see every day in our lives.”

Along with the technological lessons, the students also had an opportunity to polish their speaking and presentation skills. As part of the augmented reality project, students pitched ideas for interactive content to Reinert Alumni Memorial Library staff. With mobile devices, students demonstrated how a QR code could help researchers by opening routes to more information via photo galleries or videos.

“They all did very well with that portion of the project and the folks in the library were impressed,” Craig said. “We learned the importance of being able to articulate your idea and really sell it to someone using your excitement and knowledge of the technology.”

The Upward Bound students also had the chance to work with students roughly in their peer group — the RaD Lab’s interns, who are drawn from college students at Creighton, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and further afield.

Kevin Dickerson is a computer engineering major at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is in his native Omaha for the summer, working as a RaD Lab intern and helping the Upward Bound class.

“It’s been a great experience for them and for me,” Dickerson said. “It’s pretty great what Creighton has established in the RaD Lab. This is an environment where you can get a lot of experience and use a lot of different skills.”

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