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. The lab has become something of a technological playground and a digital hive for the students.
“I’ve always been interested in technology,” said Micah Moten, a student at Omaha Burke High School. “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.”
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.
“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 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.”
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. “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.
“The whole experience has been wonderful, very cool,” she said. “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.”