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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: May 12, 2003
Volume 38, Number 20

Faculty help students reach international science fair

By Michael Padilla

Mentoring high school students has paid off for UNM School of Engineering professors. Three students will compete in the international science fair in Cleveland, Ohio, May 10-17 after placing first in the team category at the regional science fair and second place at the state championships.

The students, from various high schools in the Albuquerque Public School (APS) system, were mentored by Computer Science (CS) Chair and Professor Deepak Kapur and Computer Science Professors Stephanie Forrest, Darko Stefanovic and Lance Williams, and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professors David Bader and Chris Smith. The students also received assistance from Ben Andrews, CS master student; and John Burge, CS Ph.D. student.

The team of students are Charles Brock from Manzano High School; Dietrich Bachman from Cibola High School and Noah Shepard, from Albuquerque High School. Their project, “Clash of the algorithms: Complex gaming strategies simulated with artificial intelligence,” came about after the students met with the CS mentors. The students are part of the APS Career Enrichment Center.

Initially, the faculty interacted with five students from Albuquerque high schools each week throughout the fall semester. Williams gave the students a crash introduction to the Scheme programming language. Scheme is an integral part of the undergraduate curriculum at MIT and other top computer science departments nationwide. It is also the subject of a required one semester course for sophomores majoring in computer science at UNM. The five high schoolers were exposed to the same concepts and did the same homework UNM sophomores majoring in computer science complete.

“I think it was a positive experience for me and the students,” Williams said. “It was extremely rewarding interacting with high school students who are as motivated as these guys are. We want to get the message out to all talented high school students that UNM is the place to study computer science in New Mexico.”

Kapur exposed Bachman to doing geometry proofs by induction of identities and showed him how program computers mimic them. Kapur taught him basic combinatorics, permutations and combinations, principle of exclusion and inclusion. For the past few months, Kapur aided in search techniques in artificial intelligence, particularly minimum-maximum tree pruning, evaluation heuristics for games and alpha-beta pruning for search.

“Dietrich said these techniques have been particularly helpful for doing his part of the project for the science fair,” Kapur said.
Shepard was mentored by Forrest.

“I believe that the most difficult and interesting part of science is identifying and formulating appropriate questions to study, so my emphasis with Noah was on exposing him to this side of science and giving him a few tips on how to find interesting and tractable questions to study,” Forrest said. “Once he had narrowed down his interests, John (Burge) did almost all of the hands on project mentoring and I oversaw progress from a distance.”

Bader and Smith co-mentored Brock. Bader said that mentoring is crucial to encourage high school students to explore options in undergraduate programs in engineering.

The UNM School of Engineering plans to continue the mentoring project.