The Seth Bonder Initiative for a Diverse and Inclusive K-12 Education

By Pascal Van Hentenryck, 2020 INFORMS CEI Ambassador

The Seth Bonder Summer Camp (SBSC) in Computational and Data Science for Engineering is intended for high school students interested in engineering  who do not have exposure to computer science and/or data science in their middle and high schools. In past years, this has resulted in a truly diverse set of participants weighted heavily towards minorities, women, and students with learning disabilities. The SBSC camp is a gentle introduction to computational and data science through a number of compelling applications in social and physical sciences and engineering. It consists of a series of lectures (or videos in its online version) and a set of projects that reinforce the concept.

The first part of the camp starts with introducing elementary programming concepts using our little friend Karel the Robot before moving through core data and control structures and algorithmic. The second part of the camp introduces more advanced concepts in the context of various application areas: social science, biology, medical diagnosis, and disaster response. For each application area, the camp introduces the context (e.g., social science or biology), explains how computational and data science is transforming these fields, presents a challenging application, and introduces the concepts needed to address them. For each selected application areas, the camp includes a project that exercises the new concept of a simple version of the challenging application presented earlier. In the last four years, at the University of Michigan and at Georgia Tech, the camp has used Snap!, a visual programming language that is easy to learn.  The SBSC team is now completing a new version in Python to complement the Snap! offering. The Python version will provide the basis for a second, more advanced, camp with additional modules. These should cover new fields, including transportation, energy, and privacy to name a few.

The SBSC team currently consists of Pascal Van Hentenryck, post-doctoral and PhD students in his group, and educational specialist Tuba Ketenci. The team work in close collaboration with the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, & Computing (CEISMC) at Georgia Institute of Technology, which provides training and logistics support to interact with high-school students safely and effectively.

The overarching goal of the SBSC team now is to significantly increase the number of African-Americans and hispanics in data science.  Currently, African Americans represent only about 4% of the data science/analytics field, while Hispanics make up about 7%.  In 2020, the camp has hosted an online session together with Booker T. Washington High School (BTWHS) in Atlanta. BTWHS is a historical black high school where Martin LutherKing Jr studied. It was, at the time, the only one in the city for African American students. As part of the DEI INFORMS initiative, the SBSC team and BTWHS are now pursing a joint initiative that consists of two key pillars:

    • A dedicated longitudinal education program that will support multiple summer camps with increasingly advanced material;
    • A self-paced teacher version of the camp to help BTWHS teachers offer the material themselves in their schools, either as a regular or as a flipped class.

The longitudinal initiative is a key step in providing  BTWHS students an opportunity to learn about computational and data science early, ideally as rising freshmen, and then to sustain their interests over their high-school years through increasingly advanced material. It will provide the SBSC a perennial stream of students who will stay engaged with the material over multiple years. The teacher camp will allow the SBSC camp to be firmly integrated in the life of BTWHS and then to scale to many other high-schools in Atlanta and beyond. A version of the teacher camp is planned for April/May 2021. The team is developing new videos, slides, and project documentation for this purpose as part of the the DEI INFORMS initiative. The videos will cover the lectures, the project descriptions, solutions to the assignments and projects, a description of these solutions, as well as some of the lessons we have learned over the last couples of year in engaging with the students. The SBSC will also include new material for later years discussing the impact of technology and the ethical, fairness, and privacy issues arising when deploying advanced technology.

The SBSC started in 2016 through the generosity of the Seth Bonder foundation and its president Merrill Bonder. It continues the legacy of Seth Bonder and his passion for education and pushing the frontiers and applications of operations research. We feel fortunate to work with the foundation and the DEI INFORMS initiative to bring this material to a new generation of students.

For more information, see the Seth Bonder Camp website.