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NSF Extends Robotics Program for HBCUs
December 09, 2010

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has extended its support for an alliance of nine major research universities, including Carnegie Mellon University, and 19 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that encourages African American students to pursue graduate training and research careers in robotics and computer science.

The NSF’s two-year, $1.5 million extension award will enable the Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact (ARTSI) Alliance to develop additional curricula and outreach activities, as well as continue a summer research program for undergraduates.

“The U.S. government is emphasizing the importance of STEM education — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — for maintaining competitiveness in a high-tech world,” said David S. Touretzky, research professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and one of the alliance’s founders. “Our country must draw upon its entire talent pool to develop the next generation of researchers and educators.”

Other participating Carnegie Mellon faculty are Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics, and Sara Kiesler, professor of computer science and human-computer interaction.

The ARTSI Alliance was formed in 2007 with $2 million in NSF support to increase the number of African Americans among computer and information scientists. African Americans make up 13.5 percent of the U.S. population, but comprise only about 5 percent of U.S. computer and information scientists.

In its first three years of operation, ARTSI has served more than 300 undergraduates, provided mentoring and technical assistance to 23 HBCU faculty who established robotics courses and laboratories, and delivered more than 60 robots to HBCUs for teaching and research. It has funded 50 summer internship opportunities for HBCU students to work in labs at major research universities, and held three faculty summer workshops. More than 150 students are expected to attend the next annual ARTSI Student Research Conference, March 17-19, at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

ARTSI also launched robotics-based outreach activities to attract more middle and high school students to college-level computer science programs.

Chutima Boonthum-Denecke, assistant professor of computer science at Hampton University, is principal investigator for the ARTSI program, with Carnegie Mellon’s Touretzky and Elva J. Jones, chairperson of the Computer Science Department at Winston-Salem State University, serving as lead co-principal investigators.

ARTSI is part of the NSF’s Broadening Participation in Computing Program, which seeks to increase the number of women and minority students who pursue advanced training in computer science. The alliance also has received corporate support from Motorola, Google, Intel, Seagate Technology, Apple, Boeing and iRobot.


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