Meharry and Fisk introduce high school students to innovative technologies used by NASA

Collaborative Interactive Data Science Academy

Meharry School of Applied Computational Sciences and Fisk University introduced 21 high school students to some of the innovative technologies used by NASA during the Collaborative Interactive Data Science Academy. The program, held July 17 – 21, used interactive, engaging activities to build statistical and critical thinking skills.

Eugene Levin

“Our goal was to inspire the next generation of explorers, researchers and data scientists,” says Eugene Levin, Ph.D., professor, spatial data science, and primary investigator for the NASA grant that funded the camp through the Minority University Research and Education project.

The week was full with hands-on activities using robotics, data science and the immersive technologies of virtual, augmented and mixed reality.

“We introduced remote sensing, computer vision, working with geospatial big data, and split the group into teams to work through activities based on those topics,” says Dr. Levin.

Those exercises included programming a Sphero Bolt robot to simulate planetary orbits. A Meta Quest VR headset combined original, archived audio and video so students could experience the Apollo 11 moon landing through the eyes of those who lived it.

“We also built a rover out of cardboard, a straw, pencil, rubber bands and tape,” says Caitlin Sharpe from Hume Fogg High School. After building the rubber-band powered space rovers, students applied the engineering design process to improve performance after testing results.

A drone activity was another favorite.

“The drones were really fun to fly around,” says Briley Edmondson from Blackman High School.

A week-long AI robot project challenged the students as they worked together.

“We had to work with a lot of different groups to get different ideas going,” says Shubh Patel of Martin Luther King, Jr. High School. “Figuring out how to work with different people who have different working styles might have been the biggest challenge we had, but also the place where we had the most success.”

“It was a new experience for some of us to build an AI robot like this,” says Melody Rogal of Martin Luther King, Jr. High School. “But I think that after a lot of teamwork, and learning more things about AI, we were able to work together and get it finished.”

The students also met, virtually, inspiring professionals from NASA and other organizations related to space exploration. Guest speakers included Trena Ferrell, Ph.D., from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Earth Science Division; Agnes Pasco Conaty, Ph.D., senior research scientist, NASA GLOBE; Henry Danielson from the California Cybersecurity Institute at California Polytechnic State University; Kirby Runyon, Ph.D., a planetary geologist at The Planetary Science Institute; and Katrina Carter-Journet, a reliability engineer for Blue Origin.

While most activities were held on the Meharry and Fisk campuses, the program included a field trip to the Austin Peay University GIS Center where they toured student GIS projects and watched demonstrations of the center’s drones, robots, Matterport and other GIS technology.

Students also gained a pre-college experience by living and dining in the Fisk dormitories. The evenings also provided additional time for them to collaborate on their AI robot project and to enjoy the results of the RGB strips they coded to light up high-brightness colorful LED’s in dark environments.

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