Alcoa Foundation gift to assist UHV robotics, math, computer science

UHV President Phil Castille accepts a $20,000 Alcoa Foundation grant from Laurel Cahill, community affairs supervisor at Alcoa’s Point Comfort Operations, for a university robotics research course and Math and Computer Science Awareness Day. With them are Alireza Tavakkoli, left, an assistant professor of computer science, and Amjad Nusayr, right, a computer science lecturer.

A gift from a major area employer’s foundation will give a financial boost to math and computer science initiatives at the University of Houston-Victoria and offer six area high school students an opportunity to study advanced robotics.

The Alcoa Foundation recently awarded a $20,000 grant to UHV for a new robotics research course and an annual Math and Computer Science Awareness Day.

“UHV is proud of its long-term associations with strong community partners like Alcoa,” UHV President Phil Castille said. “This grant helps us to foster programs that address technology advances and prepare students for the ever-changing needs of today’s workforce.”

The School of Arts & Sciences will use the funds to offer a semester-long research course on artificial intelligence and robotics at UHV. Students will work toward their research projects using state-of-the-art robotics and sensor kits.

“It is a regional contest, and we already are seeing a very high caliber of student entries,” said Alireza Tavakkoli, an assistant professor of computer science. “We will be looking for the top students for this after-school program. It will be a very exciting project for them and for us.”

A large component in evaluations for the course will come from student presentations at Math and Computer Science Awareness Day, a collaborative effort between UHV and Victoria College for the past 16 years. This year’s Math and Computer Science Awareness Day in April will include robotics demonstrations and a chance for the top finishers to win their own robotics kit.

“At the end of the semester, students will present their findings at area schools to share what they’ve learned and let others know of opportunities available for this type of study,” Tavakkoli said. “Also, students completing the course will be encouraged to publish their findings in peer-reviewed publications.”

Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences, said the funds will help the university develop more programs and attract top science students.

“We are looking to be at the forefront of robotics the way we are with our digital gaming, forensic science, publishing and other programs,” Di Leo said. “We are very appreciative of the Alcoa Foundation’s commitment to our recruitment efforts.”

Grant Firth, location manager at Alcoa’s Point Comfort Operations, said the company is committed to providing educational opportunities and offering Alcoa Foundation support for programs that help individuals expand technical skills through hands-on learning.

“Alcoa Foundation is pleased to support the UHV high school robotics initiative,” Firth said. “We look forward to this competition and seeing the design ideas created by the students selected for this exciting program.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Ken Cooke 361-570-4342