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Robotics camp gives high school students programming experience

Teresa Nguyen, left, and Vy Le work on their robot during UHV’s Digital Simulation and Robotics Summer Camp. The camp gave area high school students a chance to learn about robots and programming.

The sound of gears clicking and whirring filled the classroom as a dozen high school students tested their robots’ programming.

The University of Houston-Victoria is hosting its annual Digital Simulation and Robotics Summer Camp. The week-long camp is funded by a grant from Alcoa Foundation and teaches high school students from Victoria and the surrounding area how to build and program robots.

Alireza Tavakkoli

“The university has been doing this camp for three years, and I’m grateful to Alcoa Foundation for its support,” said Alireza Tavakkoli, director of the UHV digital gaming and simulation program and an assistant professor of computer science.

Students are working on programming their robots to accomplish a variety of tasks. On Monday, the first day, students became familiar with the robots and what they could do. Each day after that, the students implemented certain tasks, which usually involved programming artificial intelligence using sensors and actuators. All of the activities culminate in developing a program to efficiently guide a robot through a maze, said Tavakkoli, who organizes and runs the camp.

Some of the students, such as Vy Le, a 16-year-old junior at Palacios High School, are returning campers. This will be Le’s third year at the camp, and she’s hoping to improve and build on the programming skills she learned in previous years.

“I like how robots can do so much, but they still rely on people to input their programming,” Le said. “I like meeting new people and seeing how they use their skills and interests when building their robots. We all end up working together to program them to do different tasks.”

Le worked on her robot with Teresa Nguyen, a 15-year-old sophomore at St. Joseph High School. This was Nguyen’s first time participating.

“I first heard about the camp because my father is attending UHV to get a degree in computer programming,” Nguyen said. “This also was announced at my school, so I thought I should check it out. I enjoy science, and I’m exploring different topics to see what I like.”

Although she was nervous on the first day, Nguyen said everyone was welcoming, and she’s enjoyed learning about ways people can control robots.

For Le, robotics are part of her future career plans. She wants to pursue a career in engineering and medical technology.

“Maybe I’ll work on building and programming robots that are used in surgery or in other ways to help people,” she said. “Robots are unique because they can be more precise and don’t have a lot of the flaws that people do.”

The camp will conclude Friday with a trip to Houston to visit NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations 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 a teaching center in Katy, 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.