Campus News

CSE Kid’s Day highlights computer science and engineering

Angus Lam and Brett Kolodny demonstrate their automatic hydroponic system.

Freshman computer science majors Angus Lam and Brett Kolodny demonstrate their automatic hydroponic system. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

By JANE STOYLE WELCH

Published December 17, 2015

An enthusiastic crowd of about 500 people filled Davis Hall on Dec. 11 for a night of fun and games designed to celebrate and promote computer science.

Dubbed “CSE Kid’s Day” and hosted by UB’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), the event featured robot demos, games designed to teach programming concepts and kid-friendly interactive projects led by UB students.

The most popular spot for families with younger children was the third floor of Davis Hall, where youngsters could program robots to do fun things like follow a line, navigate a maze or dance.

 Karthik Dantu (in gray shirt), assistant professor of computer science and engineering, helps Vedant Rai, 6, (in green shirt). Vendant’s father, Rahul Rai (in brown jacket), is an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

Families stood in line to take part in this demonstration, in which participants learned how to program a robot to do fun things, like follow a line, navigate a maze or dance. Karthik Dantu (in gray shirt), assistant professor of computer science and engineering, helps Vedant Rai, 6, (in green shirt). Vendant’s father, Rahul Rai (in brown jacket), is an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

“We got the kids excited by showing them various ways to write code and program a computer. Getting one of our robots to dance to music was very exciting for the kids,” said Bob DeBortoli, a computer engineering major.

In another activity, kids played games that taught programming and computer science concepts without using a computer. Large squares were taped on the floor, and the children moved around the squares by following a series of prompts to sort numbers in increasing order.

 As part of a game that taught programming and computer science concepts without using a computer, children move around large squares taped on the floor.

As part of a game that taught programming and computer science concepts without using a computer, children move around large squares taped on the floor by following a series of prompts to sort numbers in increasing order — similar to hopscotch, without the hopping. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

“I liked the sorting games because we could participate in them and not just have someone showing it to us. It was a cool way to learn!” said Aditi Arun, a seventh-grader at Transit Middle School.

Kid’s Day, which was part of UB’s celebration of national Computer Science Education Week, is aligned with a White House-sponsored initiative that aims to get more students learning how to code, program, script, design and harness the power of computing to solve new challenges.

“I know that when I was growing up, I had no idea what computer science was all about,” said computer science major Meg Arnold. “By opening up our department to the community, we can educate kids about computer science and hopefully spark their interest.”

Arnold’s colleague, Gela Malek Pour, added: “We also hope to encourage more girls to explore careers in computer science by exposing them to the field at younger ages.”

Computer Science Education Week is held every December to honor computer science innovator Grace Hopper (1906-92), an admiral in the U.S. Navy who pioneered the use of computer system standards in the 1970s and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language.

Earlier in the week, CSE students organized an information session, project demonstrations and a scavenger hunt for all UB students with the aim of getting them interested in computer science and engineering.

The events were organized by the CSE Undergraduate Student Advisory Board, which included Arnold, DeBortoli, Malek Pour and Wendy Jansson, as well as Atri Rudra, associate professor of computer science and engineering.