The Catholic University of America

Dec. 15, 2009

High School Students Get Hands-on Experience in Engineering

  Assistant Professor Jae Choi works with high school students, from left, Sandy Janwatin, 17, Gabriel Hendrickson, 16, and Erf Islam, 16, to create a computer game program.

More than two dozen Virginia high school students were introduced to Catholic University's School of Engineering thanks, in part, to the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry.

To illustrate an application of computer science, Assistant Professor Jae Choi led students in a computer-game programming exercise. With correct programming by teams of students, the well-known characters Tom and Jerry appeared on computer screens. Choi, who has a background in computer graphics, developed the exercise so that the game could be transferred to an Xbox 360.

"It was fun. I learned to do functions," said Erf Islam, who with his team was able to complete the program and have Tom grab Jerry. His teammate, Sandy Janwatin, said, "It was interesting. It's nice to learn some programming and see how it comes out in the end."

The two juniors from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria were among 27 students who visited the campus Dec. 14 to learn more about CUA, the fields of computer science and electrical engineering, and how they can use the majors in specific careers.

"I think for them to see some hands-on applications is good," said Jennifer Moshier, who teaches advanced research and design and introduction to engineering at Alexandria's only public high school. She was joined by Shelly Bell, who teaches AP computer science.

The high-schoolers were welcomed to campus by Charles Nguyen, dean of the School of Engineering. When he asked students whether they were good in math and science, hands rose in the air. "Have you ever wondered whether you can apply math and physics equations to building something useful like a space shuttle or a race car?" he asked students.

To illustrate just what one can do with an engineering degree, Nguyen called on Phillip Regalia, chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Sen Nieh, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who showed off current technologies and explained the work of engineers. Assistant Professor Lin-Ching Chang outlined the growing demand for engineers in the workplace.

The four professors who spent the morning with the high schools students represented the full-time engineering faculty, all of whom hold doctoral degrees and regularly conduct research and write for publications.

Visiting students also toured the School of Engineering, which has more than 6,000 alumni, and heard from representatives of the athletics and admissions offices.

The visit, which was coordinated by Carol Young, a recruiter in the School of Engineering, marked the end of National Computer Science Education Week.