Downtown

A summer of self-driving vehicles and clawbots in Downtown Brooklyn

July 13, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Students are immersing themselves in hot tech topics like cyber security and robotics at NYU Tandon’s Downtown Brooklyn campus this summer. Shown: High school students building working clawbots as part of the ITEST Robotics and Entrepreneurship program. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

You might notice an unusual number of radio-controlled vehicles or breadbox-sized robots scooting around MetroTech this summer. Do not be alarmed. 

For the next seven weeks, hundreds of high school and middle school students will be immersing themselves in hot tech topics like cyber security, smart cities, robotics, self-driving vehicles and more at NYU Tandon’s Downtown Brooklyn campus. 

NYU’s STEMNow program, now in its sixth year, brings students together with NYU Tandon faculty, graduate and undergraduate students for high-level hands on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) experiences. 

Many participants are from underserved schools, and this year a record number, 65 percent, are female. 

There are roughly a dozen different STEMNow programs this summer on the MetroTech campus; seven are funded by the National Science Foundation. One is the ITEST Robotics and Entrepreneurship program.

In the ITEST clawbot program, students and their high school teachers attend classes on topics like Ohm’s Law and how to build circuits. Most of students’ hours, however, are not spent in the classroom, but in the engineering lab, Ben Esner, director of K-12 STEM Education at NYU Tandon, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“They spend most of the day working on different challenge projects,” he said. Students and teachers build and program the clawbots to perform specific tasks “such as go to a place, pick up a plastic cup, carry it somewhere and don’t crush the cup.” 

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Not crushing the cup is harder than it sounds, Esner said. 

Photo by Mary Frost

“The coding side is intense,” he added. “They also learn a little entrepreneurship. When they go back to their schools, they teach robotics.” 

Other sections include Computer Science for Cyber Security, an all-girls class that introduces students to programming, “virtuous hacking” and digital forensics; Artificial Intelligence for Autonomous Vehicles; Science of Smart Cities and Applied Research Innovations in Science and Engineering. 

Representatives from the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. were on hand to talk to girls in particular about cyber security and reducing risk in the financial services industry, and demonstrated a “phishing” program.

Photo by Mary Frost

Former Education Secretary John King Inspires the Crowd

To kick off the activities, John B. King, Jr. U.S. Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration and current president and CEO of The Education Trust, credited departing Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan for growing the program, and spoke to the 600 students and teachers about his early educational experiences.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, both of King’s parents were NYC public school educators — and both tragically passed away from illness by the time he was 12 years old. King said he was “scared and lonely, but amazing New York City public school teachers saved my life.” 

King attended P.S. 276 in Canarsie and Mark Twain Junior High School in Coney Island, and he fondly recalled reading The New York Times in fourth, fifth and sixth grades, playing the Rose in “Alice and Wonderland,” and visiting museums and the ballet. 

John B. King, Jr. U.S. Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration and current president and CEO of The Education Trust, speaks with program participants at Thursday’s kickoff luncheon. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

“I was angry in high school,” King said. “I was angry at adults. I got in a lot of trouble, and I was kicked out of high school. It would have been very easy to give up on an African-American boy. But even after I made bad decisions, they [teachers] gave me a second chance; they invested in me. Now, my whole life is education. I’m trying to give other kids that chance.” 

On his way to the White House, King earned his B.A. from Harvard University, a J.D. from Yale Law School, an M.A. in the teaching of social studies and a PhD in education from Teachers College at Columbia University. His goal with The Education Trust is to increase opportunities for typically underserved kids. 

“To get to equality we have to have diversity,” he said.

(Left) Ben Esner, director of K-12 STEM Education at NYU Tandon, with John B. King Jr. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

 

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