Category: Students of CS

ROTC Cybersecurity Training for Tomorrow’s Officers

The U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Naval Research, has awarded Michigan Tech faculty researchers a $249,000 grant that supports the creation of an ROTC undergraduate science and engineering research program at Michigan Tech. The primary goal of the program is to supply prepared cadets to all military branches to serve as officers in Cyber commands.

The principal investigator (PI) of the project is Andrew Barnard, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. Co-PIs are Timothy Havens, College of Computing; Laura Brown , Computer Science, and Yu Cai, Applied Computing. The title of the project is, “Defending the Nation’s Digital Frontier: Cybersecurity Training for Tomorrow’s Officers.”

The curriculum will be developed over the summer, and instruction associated with the award will begin in the fall 2020 semester. Cadets interested in joining the new program are urged to contact Andrew Barnard.

Initially, the program will focus on topics in cybersecurity, machine learning and artificial intelligence, data science, and remote sensing systems, all critical to the The Naval Science and Technology (S&T) Strategic Plan and the Navy’s Force of the Future, and with equal relevance in all branches of the armed forces.

The plan of work focuses on on engaging ROTC students in current and on-going Cyber research, and supports recruitment of young ROTC engineers and scientists to serve in Navy cybersecurity and cyber-systems commands. The program will compel cadets to seek positions within Cyber commands upon graduation, or pursue graduate research in Cyber fields.

“Our approach develops paid, research-based instruction for ROTC students through the existing Michigan Tech Strategic Education Naval Systems Experiences (SENSE) program,” said principal investigator Andrew Barnard, “ROTC students will receive one academic year of instruction in four Cyber domains: cybersecurity, machine learning and artificial intelligence (ML/AI), data science, and remote sensing systems.”

Barnard says the cohort-based program will enrich student learning through deep shared research experiences. He says the program will be designed with flexibility and agility in mind to quickly adapt to new and emerging Navy science and technology needs in the Cyber domain.

Placement of officers in Cyber commands is of critical long-term importance to the Navy (and other DoD branches) in maintaining technological superiority, says the award abstract, noting that technological superiority directly influences the capability and safety of the warfighter.

Also closely involved in the project are Michigan Tech Air Force and Army ROTC officers Lt. Col. John O’Kane and LTC Christian Thompson, respectively.

“Unfortunately, many ROTC cadets are either unaware of Cyber related careers, or are unprepared for problems facing Cyber officers,” said Lt. Col. O’Kane. “This proposal aims to provide a steady flow of highly motivated and trained uniformed officers to the armed-services, capable of supporting the warfighter on day-one.”

Andrew Barnard is director of Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center, an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, and faculty advisor to the SENSE Enterprise.

Tim Havens is director of the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems, associate dean for research, College of Computing, and the William and Gloria Jackson Associate Professor of Computer Systems.

Laura Brown is an associate professor, Computer Science, director of the Data Science graduate program, and a member of the ICC’s Center for Data Sciences.

Yu Cai is a professor of Applied Computing, an affiliated professor of Computational Science and Engineering, a member of the ICC’s Center for Cybersecurity, and faculty advisor for the Red Team, which competes in the National Cyber League (NCL).

The Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) provides state-of-the-art laboratories to support research on a broad array of topics. Faculty members from many departments across Michigan Technological University’s campus collaborate on interdisciplinary research, ranging from air–water interactions to biogeochemistry to food web relationships.

The Army and Air Force have active ROTC programs on Michigan Tech’s campus.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) coordinates, executes, and promotes the science and technology programs of the United States Navy and Marine Corps.


Capture the Flag Competition Incredibly Successful

The Capture the Flag competition at this year’s Winter Wonderhack, held the weekend of February 21-23, was incredibly successful, with a total of 35 students competing on 15 different teams.

The three top teams finished with 100% completion after 10+ hours of hard work, and the fourth place team was close behind with only two flags left. The entire competition was very competitive, with the top four teams constantly exchanging places throughout the weekend.

Winning teams:

First Place (Hak5 WiFi Pineapple and Manual) – Real Pineapple:
Eli Brockert, Cybersecurity, sophomore
Matthew Chau, Cybersecurity, freshman
Nathan Wichers, EE, freshman

Second Place  (Hak5 Packet Squirrel and Manual) – College Nerd Seeking Assets
Justin Bilan, CNSA, junior
Stuart Hoxie, CNSA, junior
Ben Kangas , CNSA, junior
Austin Clark, CNSA, junior
Nicklaus Finetti, CNSA, senior

Third Place (Hak5 USB Rubber Ducky and Manual)  – The Blue Tigers 21
Austin Doorlag, CS, sophomore
Harley Merkaj, CS, sophomore
Anthony Viola, CpE, sophomore

Fourth Place (Hak5 Sticker Packs and USB Rubber Ducky Manual)  – Fsociety
Sam Breuer, CpE, freshman
John Claassen, CS, sophomore
Samantha Christie, CS, freshman

All participants in the Capture the Flag Competition, February 21-23, 2020

Michigan Tech is #2 on WXYZ List of Highest-paid Grads

Michigan Tech is #2 on list of highest-paid grads in Michigan published recently by WXYZ Detroit (ABC-TV). The ratings are based on data from Payscale.com.

For Michigan Tech grads, the midpoint for early career salaries is $65,000 (five or fewer years on the job), and the midpoint for seasoned pros is more than $116,000 (10 years on the job). No school in Michigan awards a higher percentage of science, technology and engineering degrees that Michigan Tech.

Other schools on the list were Albion College (#7), University of Michigan Dearborn ( #6 ), Michigan State University (#5), Lawrence Technological University (#4), University of Michigan (#3), and Kettering University (#1). View the full story here.


Leidos Gift Equips EET, MET Lab with State-of-the-Art Learning Tools

Leidos representatives Matthew Luttinen, Jessica Hutchings, Kate Nowosad, Dale Rimmey, and Mike Cooney

It was five years ago, in 2015, when Leidos and Michigan Tech representatives started talking about equipping the Electrical Machinery and Controls Lab with new Amatrol learning stations.

It took some time, but in 2018 a generous gift from Leidos got things started. The lab space–on the 4th floor of the Electrical Energy Resources Center (EERC)–was expanded and refurbished, the electrical was upgraded, and the cost of the new work stations was considered.

“It wasn’t enough to do all we wanted to do,” said Dale Rimmey, director of college talent acquisition and solutions at Leidos, “so we talked some more, and eventually we were pleased to double our original gift.”

“This lab was a long time coming, and along the way we developed some great relationships with our industry partners,” said Adrienne Minerick, dean of the College of Computing. “Everything came together because Leidos and Eagle Mine believe in the quality of Michigan Tech education, and because an investment in qualified people assures a great future for our students and for all concerned.”

With the second Leidos gift in 2019, the EET and MET programs were able to complete the lab refurbishment and install six new state-of-the art learning stations in time for the fall 2019 section of Electrical Machinery (EET 2233).

Four of the learning stations and lab renovations were funded by Leidos, one station was funded by Eagle Mine, and one was purchased by the former Michigan Tech School of Technology.

This week, Leidos representatives were on campus to celebrate the completion of the Leidos Electrical Machinery and Controls Lab, and to participate in Career Fair. Leidos representatives attending were Dale Rimmey; Mike Cooney ’01 (BS, EET), project lead; Jessica Hutchings ’15 (BS, EE), controls engineer; Matthew Luttinen ’10 (MS, EE/Power Systems), electrical engineer; Kate Nowosad, ’17 (BS, EE), substation design engineer.

More than anything, Dale Rimmey is excited for the students who will benefit from the gift. “This is a great opportunity to support Michigan Tech students and at the same time build a larger pool of talented, well-trained future employees for Leidos and the industry as a whole,” he said.

Required for all EET and MET students, EET 2233 is a crucial building block in the study of electrical and mechanical engineering and mechatronics.

“In mechatronics, students learn to appreciate the electrical, mechanical and computing side of hardware equipment,” said assistant professor Nathir Rawashdeh, CMH Division. “Selecting and controlling electrical machines are prime examples of this, and the new learning units and exercises provide all the tools students need to thoroughly understand these subjects.”

Michigan Tech students and Leidos reps

Students in last fall’s section of the class were the first to use the new learning stations, thanks to EET senior Zarek Pirkola and his fellow lab assistants, who assembled and tested the machines in time for the second half of the fall 2019 semester.

The new equipment also led to revisions in the hands-on lab exercises that accompany the Electrical Machinery course; units related to emerging topics, motor control, and troubleshooting were added.

“It was a race against time to get the machines ready for the eight-week motors unit last fall,” Pirkola said, adding that the curricula included with the units helped a lot. Pirkola was among the last students to use the old lab and equipment.

“The new equipment and curricula broaden the scope of laboratory exercises, and allow us to cover the more advanced control circuits used in operating larger electrical machinery,” said Alex Sergeyev, CMH Division professor and director of the Mechatronics graduate program.

“The knowledge and experience students gain means better-educated graduates with more practical hands-on experience,” said Sergeyev. “The design, configuration, and troubleshooting of industrial control systems is central to today’s industry, and the new Amatrol work stations are key to building the foundational knowledge future leaders in the field will need … with obvious benefits to employers of our graduates.”

Before the new Leidos lab was outfitted, EET 2233 student exercises were conducted on outdated, unreliable equipment, noted lecturer Paniz Hazaveh, College of Computing. The new units are more compact and they’re equipped with a number of safety features, including lower voltage and an emergency shut off, she explained.

With an average of 45 students enrolling in EET 2233 each fall semester, there is more to be done. Leidos has already started the wheels turning for a third gift to purchase additional units, and now there is plenty of space in the new lab.

Also among those attending the celebration were Adrienne Minerick, dean, College of Computing; Dan Fuhrmann, chair of the CMH Division; Nathir Rawashdeh, assistant professor, CMH Division; Rick Berkey, professor of practice, Pavlis Honors College; Jim Desrocher, director of advancement; Cody Kangas, director of industry engagement; and a number of graduate and undergrad students.

Nathir Rawashdeh demonstrates the learning unit

About the Partners

Serving the business intelligence, health, IT, defense, and civil sectors and with more than 400 locations in 30 countries, Leidos is a global leader in the integration and application of information technology, engineering, and science.

Amatrol designs, develops and manufactures technical training systems and simulators for industry and academia to teach technical and workplace skills ranging from entry level basic technical skills to advanced technology troubleshooting for degree and certification preparation.

Amatrol’s Basic Electrical Machines Learning System teaches electric machines commonly found in industrial, commercial, and residential applications: single phase AC motors, three-phase AC electric motors, and DC electric motors. Learners practice industry-relevant skills including operation, installation, analyzing performance, industrial motor wiring, and selecting electric machines for various applications.

Eagle Mine, a subsidiary of Lundin Mining, is an underground, high-grade nickel and copper mine located in western Marquette County of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lundin Mining is a diversified base metals mining company with operations and projects around the world.

The Michigan Tech College of Computing prepares students for lifelong prosperity and employability through relevant, contemporary academic programs in computing and cyber-technologies. The College offers graduate degrees in Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Health Informatics, and Mechatronics; and undergraduate degrees in Computer Network System Administration (CNSA), Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Electrical Engineering Technology (EET), and Software Engineering.

The College of Computing’s CMH Division–Computer Network and System Administration/Mechatronics, Electrical, and Robotics Engineering Technology/Health Informatics Division–brings together faculty and programs in the College of Computing that share a common interest in applied aspects of computing.  The areas of study within the Division–computer networks, cybersecurity, robotics, big data–provide Michigan Tech graduates skills that are in high demand, now and in the future.

Enjoy the photo gallery below.

(L to R) Adrienne Minerick, Paniz Hazaveh, Dan Fuhrmann, Mike Cooney, Nathir Rawashdeh, Zarek Pirkola

Leidos representatives Jessica Hitchungs, Dale Rimmey, and Mike Cooney

Leidos representatives Matthew Luttinen, Jessica Hitchungs, Kate Nowosad, Dale Rimmey, and Mike Cooney

Nathir Rawashdeh demonstrates the learning system

Amatrol Basic Electrical Machines Learning System

Amatrol Basic Electrical Machines Learning System

Dan Fuhrmann (L) and Nathir Rawashdeh

Celebration attendees

Nathir Rawashdeh demonstrates the Amatrol learning system

Nathir Rawashdeh demonstrates the Amatrol learning system

Nathir Rawashdeh demonstrates the Amatrol learning system

Nathir Rawashdeh demonstrates the Amatrol learning system

Nathir Rawashdeh demonstrates the Amatrol learning system

Nathir Rawashdeh demonstrates the Amatrol learning system

Amatrol Basic Electrical Machines Learning System

Amatrol Basic Electrical Machines Learning System

Amatrol Basic Electrical Machines Learning System

Amatrol Basic Electrical Machines Learning System

Zarek Pirkola


Computing Students Featured in Two New Videos

The College of Computing is pleased to share two new My Michigan Tech videos from Software Engineering major Parker Young and dual Audio Production and Technology/Computer Science major Drew Stockero.

My Michigan Tech: Parker Young

My Michigan Tech: Drew Stockero


RedTeam to Host Capture the Flag Competition, Feb. 21-23

In conjunction with the 36-hour Winter WonderHack, February 21-23, 2020, on Michigan Tech’s campus, the Michigan Tech RedTeam is running a Capture the Flag cybersecurity competition. The competition is designed to appeal to both beginners and the more experienced competitors. Everyone is welcome, especially undergraduates. Free swag and prizes will be awarded. Register at winterwonderhack.com. Email jrbergma@mtu.edu with questions.

About the Capture the Flag competition:
What: Jeopardy-style cybersecurity competition with questions broken down by category and difficulty.
When: All weekend, February Compete at your convenience.
Who: Students from any major in teams up to 5. No prior experience is necessary.
Win: Hak5 prizes including a WiFi Pineapple, Packet Squirrel, USB Rubber Ducky, and Sticker Packs.


Winter WonderHack, Capture the Flag Competition are Feb. 21-23

Winter Wonderhack will take place on the Michigan Tech campus February 21-23. The free 36-hour event is for all students to work on technical projects. get free swag, and win prizes. Register at winterwonderhack.com.

Also part of the Winter WonderHack, the Michigan Tech RedTeam is running a Capture the Flag cybersecurity competition. The competition is designed to appeal to both beginners and the more experienced competitors. Everyone is welcome, especially undergraduates.

About the Winter WonderHack:
WHAT DO I DO? Whatever you can dream up! A hackathon; A makeathon; an inventathon – whatever your take on it, this is about using your passion to learn and create something new.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE? If you are a current student, or if you have graduated in the last 12 months, you are eligible. If you are a high-school student and want to attend, great! Contact us below.
DO I NEED ANY PARTICULAR SKILLS? IS THIS FOR ME? You don’t need anything except your brain and passion. Everyone of all fields of study and levels of experience is welcome. You don’t have to be an engineer or a programmer or designer to belong here. Additionally, we will have multiple workshops, crash-courses and mentors to kick-start and guide you to where you want to be.
DO I HAVE TO BE ON A TEAM, OR CAN I FLY SOLO? Either is fine; you can go solo or be in a team of up to four people. Note: Competing alone does not mean you get four times the prizes, sorry 🙁
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Nothing! We will provide everything – food, sleeping space, power, internet, snow…
WILL THERE BE PRIZES? SWAG? FOOD? Yes, yes, and yes. This event is about learning and fun, but we’ve partnered with our sponsors to bring some awesome prizes to WWH, including some surprises.
I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO! Not a problem! Many people don’t have plans down when they arrive. There will be time and space to get together with students from other schools and get some ideas flowing. Meeting new people, being exposed to new ideas, and learning new things is one of the best things about coming, and many people also often end up creating great things, making friends, or even starting companies.
WHAT SHOULD I BRING? WILL THERE BE ANYTHING AVAILABLE TO USE? Bring whatever you need, but keep it light. This probably means a laptop, a change of clothes and other basics, and whatever you plan on using for your project. Make sure you bring a student ID (and a photo ID if your student ID does not have a photo). We’ll have some hardware available for the duration of the event as well as tools, 3d printers, materials like wood and foam, and a few freebies like free web domains.
WILL I BE COLD? No, you will not be cold (it doesn’t get that cold here… relatively speaking); if anything you’ll be quite toasty inside. Do dress appropriately though (mittens!), especially bearing in mind that you might want to do something happening outside, where while not overly cold, it will be a winter wonderland with MTU’s 300+ inch-per-year snowfall and plentiful ice sculptures from the Winter Carnival.
HOW DO I GET THERE? Directions to the venue can be found here.
WHEN IS THE DEADLINE TO REGISTER? The first round of decisions will be made in early February. This isn’t a deadline, and if we don’t have room for you at first, we may accept you later; it is common to be accepted off the waitlist after the first round of decisions.
ARE THERE ANY RULES? You must abide by our Code of Conduct. You don’t necessarily have to start your project from scratch, but you can’t submit anything you did before the start of the event. All work must be done at the event.

About the Capture the Flag competition:
What: Jeopardy-style cybersecurity competition with questions broken down by category and difficulty.
When: All weekend, February Compete at your convenience.
Who: Students from any major in teams up to 5. No prior experience is necessary.
Win: Hak5 prizes including a WiFi Pineapple, Packet Squirrel, USB Rubber Ducky, and Sticker Packs.


Computing Majors on GLIAC All-Academic Team

Congratulations to College of Computing grad student Bernard Kluskens, Cybersecurity, and senior Robbie Watling, Computer Science, who are among 18 Michigan Tech students recognized on the 2019 GLIAC Men’s Cross Country All-Academic Excellence Team. https://www.gliac.org/general_news/2019-20/Fall_2019_Academic_Teams/GLIAC_Fall_Academic_Teams_2019

Bernard Kluskens

Robbie Watling


Persistence is the Key to Success … and Scholarships Really Help

Student with College of Computing t-shirt

Persistence is the Key to Success … and Scholarships Really Help

Employer demand for talented computing graduates is high, and the College of Computing is helping to meet that demand through an exceptional learning experience. But sometimes students need a little extra help to persist and complete their degrees.

University faculty and staff help students persist in many ways, such as innovative and effective teaching, wide-access computing learning labs, several tiers of academic and personal support, and coursework and extra-curricular opportunities designed to build and apply knowledge and instill self-confidence.

Computing alumni have shared with us many stories about how they overcame struggles in tough courses, sticking with it instead of changing their major. Often for these alumni the thought of losing a computing major-based scholarship was an important deterrent.

Building on this idea, the College of Computing has established the Persistence in Computer Science Scholarship Fund and the Persistence in Applied Computing Scholarship Fund to help undergraduate students persist in the pursuit of their College of Computing degrees. A student’s GPA will not be a major determinant in awarding this scholarship, as the goal is to encourage persistence, not perfection. The scholarship will be annually renewable for up to four years for each student, as long as recipients make satisfactory progress in their major.

Please consider making a gift to one of these scholarships, or even committing to a four-year pledge so we can encourage the persistence of many College of Computing students, now and for years to come.

Please visit mtu.edu/computing/giving to make your gift online, or phone Adam Johnson, Director of Advancement for the College of Computing, at 906-487-1087. Please indicate that your gift is designated for the CS Persistence Fund or the AC Persistence Fund.


The Gift of Computing

Through the years and across generations, Huskies help their neighbors navigate the digital universe. In the season of giving, drop in on two volunteer programs that benefit both givers and receivers.

On any given Saturday during the academic year, you’ll find Michigan Technological University students serving as coaches and teachers in the community and on campus in a couple of programs that have been around since 2011. Building Adult Skills in Computing, or BASIC, helps older people with computer-related questions. Copper Country Coders introduces younger people to computer science and programming.

BASIC: Where No One is Left to Their Own Devices

BASIC walk-ins are welcome from 10-11 a.m. Saturdays at Portage Lake District Library in Houghton. Sessions used to be earlier in the day before the library opened to the public, said Kelly Steelman, a Michigan Tech associate professor of human factors and psychology who, along with Charles Wallace, an associate professor of computer science, serves as a BASIC tutor and researcher. But as it turns out, technological newcomers as well as Huskies like to sleep in. The time adjustment is one of several tweaks that have taken place as the program — and the devices we use in our daily lives — evolve. For example, nobody’s gathered ’round the library’s desktop computer stations. On this particular Saturday, as rays of treasured winter sunlight glint on the ice-glazed Keweenaw Waterway and stained-glass art, participants are cozily tucked into the shoreside Michigan Room with laptops, phones and tablets at the ready.

“Easy for you to remember, but hard for them to guess.” That’s how Parker Young sums up the perfect password for Naomi and Eliot Haycock, who brought in a tablet and laptop. He explains to the lively couple that encrypted password management programs make it easier to keep track of all the passwords safely. “As long as you remember the one password, you have all the others,” he said. They also discuss PayPal — Naomi’s intrigued, Eliot’s skeptical. Both are interested in what kind of writing programs are already available on their newly acquired laptop. Young shows them options, from Google Docs to the preinstalled writing software.

“Good. We can do a Christmas letter,” Naomi said.

They move on to installing updates and discuss the necessity to perform them regularly (“There goes another one!” Parker exclaimed). Next, the trio walks through how to connect to Wi-Fi at home for the first time with the new device.

An older couple and a younger man with a Michigan Tech Huskies shirt on smile at the camera in a library.
Naomi and Eliot Haycock, BASIC Saturday regulars, work through their computing to-do list with Parker Young.
“They do a great job. We’ve come here quite a few times,” Naomi said. “People tell us, ‘if you had to pay for this, you’d be paying a lot.’”

“Give this guy a good grade. He’s good,” Eliot tells Charles Wallace, who is on the other side of the wide wooden library table helping a gentleman who’s never used a computer. First-timers are rare these days. Whenever a new user powers up, it’s exciting; both tutor and learner are smiling as he Googles for the first time, locating his church on the map and visiting its website.

Wallace encourages the beginner to keep exploring, then explains to the Haycocks that students aren’t graded for being part of BASIC. They’re here only because they want to be.

“We’re giving the gift of bringing people to the digital table,” said BASIC volunteer Abby Kuehne, a double major in psychology and communication, culture and media with research experience in human-computer interaction.

Today she’s working with a soft-spoken man looking for pointers on getting started with a tablet. “Because this is a mobile setting, the tablet is going to be set up differently,” she explained.

The work Kuehne does here aligns with her career goals; which include enhancing technology accessibility and effective communication across cultures. More than that, it’s establishing a lifelong pattern of service.

“It becomes a good habit,” said Kuehne. “I believe in karma, in giving back.”

For scientific and technical communication major Paige Short, showing up on Saturday mornings has also become second nature. Short, whose endeavors include work to communicate science on a global level, sees the relationship between students and the people who come for help as mutually beneficial. “It builds community,” she said. “It connects us to the local community, and helps them be a part of the digital community.” Never more so than on this Saturday, when Short is assisting with budget workflow strategy for a local community garden.

two women show people how to use laptaps on a wooden table with windows in the background as a man looks on.
Portage Lake District Library has been hosting BASIC Saturdays since the program’s inception. You’ll often find Huskies Abby Kuehne, left, and Paige Short, right, bringing fellow community members to the digital table.

The session wraps up shortly after 11; the group meets for a quick debrief. There’s just enough time for Young to do some work on his truck before he heads over to the Michigan Tech College of Computing, where Copper Country Coders meets every Saturday afternoon of the academic year. Wallace will be there, too — this program also benefits from his co-leadership, in this case with Leo Ureel, computer science senior lecturer and coordinator of the Michigan Tech College of Computing Learning Center.

Get Help. Meet Huskies.

Walk-ins are welcome to the Saturday BASIC sessions. Follow the Portage Lake District Library Facebook page for updates.
You don’t have to bring a computer. The library has Chromebooks available.

The call goes out for Copper Country Coders enrollment in early September. Learn more on the Copper Country Coders Facebook page.

Want to help support these and other computer literary programs? Find out more.

Programmed Snowflakes and the Python Boiz

Compared to the quiet of the library, the atmosphere is a tad more rambunctious in the first-floor labs of Kanwal Rekhi Hall, where the youngest of the Copper Country Coders teams is raring to go. In sessions that run from 1-3 p.m., Michigan Tech students work with young people from area schools who share a goal not dissimilar from those of their older counterparts: they’re learning how to make computers do what they’re told. They’re learning to speak the language of programming.

“Can we play games before the other people come?” asks one youngster, bouncing up and down on a computer desk chair.

Instructor Keith Atkinson smiles, patiently explaining that they’ll all be creating a holiday snowfall game once everyone has gathered. He doesn’t mind the rowdier element or the challenge of keeping active young people engaged. “I’m pretty high energy myself and I like thinking on my feet,” said the computer science major, who started with the Coders in 2015. He also clearly enjoys serving his community — for his directed study class this semester, Atkinson created an inventory system for Michigan Tech’s Husky Food Access Network pantry.

Atkinson is co-leading one of the middle-school teams with fellow computer science major Galen Resh Chimner, who was enrolled in the program as a youngster. “It was fun to come and learn and get challenged,” he said.

Today’s project is a holiday snowfall game. Students learn to program a snowflake — to draw it and make it move. Every click of the computer mouse adds a new snowflake.

Programming is the Universal Language

a young man in a black and gold husky sweatshirt leans toward a computer screen
Trevor Good, like many of the Huskies in Copper Country Coders, is in it for the fun of both learning and teaching.
Across the hall, Parker Young is at it again — this time teaming up with computer science major Trevor Good to introduce ninth-grade and middle-school students to the popular, easy-to-use programming language that inspired their tongue-in-cheek team name: the Python Boiz. Young has been doing both BASIC and Coders for three years; it’s Good’s second year and second time co-leading with Young.

“Last year, we did Minecraft,” said Good. “We picked Python because it’s the number-one programming language in the world; it’s used for AI, machine learning, automation … logically it makes a lot of sense. I wanted to learn it myself.”

Young was also new to Python. “Teaching others helps me learn,” said Young, who is also a coach in the College of Computing Learning Center.

The College of Computing is piloting a course to teach Python to non-computing majors across campus. For today, though, the focus is on the half-dozen younger students situated at monitors in the lab.

“What’s up man? Oooh, you’re so close!” Young moves between computer stations, checking out the ongoing project. “Let’s go, you guys! I wanna see some cool tic tac toes.”

“I love coming here every Saturday and I love teaching,” said Young.

The vibe is sedate in comparison over at the Electrical Energy Resources Center (EERC), a short walk from Rekhi Hall, where high school-aged students are working with two graduate students, Marissa Walther and Shaun Flynn. Walther has been with Copper Country Coders for five years, Flynn four.

two Michigan Tech students watch students on computer monitors in a lab, one of the students, a girl, is looking intently at the screen
Marissa Walther, left, and Shaun Flynn’s group works on hardware coding.
Walther, who earned a bachelor’s in computer science in 2019, is studying for her master’s.

Flynn, who earned a BS in computer engineering, is working toward his master’s. In 2018, their lesson plans focused on teaching young coders Java development and how to create games using JavaFX morphed into the book The World of Java Programming.

The two instructor-mentors said that the goal this year is to introduce students to hardware and the work that goes into building it.

“They can choose what it can do. They can do a lot of hardware prototyping,” said Flynn.

“I like teaching students. It’s fun to watch them develop,” he said, as the pair watches students work intently at their lab monitors. “They chose to spend two hours with us, programming. I came to Michigan Tech not knowing any of this.”

altera computer board closeup with wires
“Think of it as giant programmable hardware” — that’s how Shaun Flynn describes the Altera Board.
Time and again Huskies involved in the programs mention the joy of both teaching and learning.

It’s Not You, It’s the Technology

Place the responsibility where it belongs. On the technology. Both Copper County Coders and BASIC give participants the confidence to deploy digital tools to do desired and necessary tasks. That benefits both the students teaching and the students who are learning from them.

Copper Country Coders organizes young people from local schools into teams of six to eight, depending on enrollment fluctuations and the level of difficulty of each team. Two Huskies co-lead each group — each group compiles its own lesson plans, learning objectives and means to measure outcomes. Sessions are adjusted as the academic year moves along to keep pace with student progress. If more time is needed, the group stays with a project longer. If something doesn’t go over well, it’s documented for future Coders planning their own programs.

Last year the group presented its first Computer Science Expo.

At the Saturday BASIC sessions, coaches often work with people who are familiar with some tasks, but are continually challenged by the pace of technology — if you’re retired, for example, you aren’t required to adapt to the latest program or process being used in your workplace. Things like running out of space on a smart phone or other roadblocks with apps and social media present have the potential to present discouraging or demoralizing roadblocks. BASIC eliminates the blame game.

“Our approach is meeting people where they are,” Steelman said.

“Tutoring is more about empathy and compassion. We’re paying attention and mirroring the words. What are the things that freak people out about computers? How can we alleviate those concerns?”  –Kelly Steelman, BASIC tutor and researcher

“It’s not that they’re not a good computer user,” Steelman noted. “We put those worries on the computer.”

BASIC offers one tutor training session every semester, the interdisciplinary program is open to students from all majors. Beyond résumé building, “it feels good, making differences in lives,” said Steelman. The regionally and nationally recognized service-learning opportunity aspires to expand; beyond Michigan Tech outreach Wallace has shared the concept with other libraries and organizations who could bring BASIC to their communities.

Eliot and Naomi Haycock are on their own until the student coaches return January 18. Given the skills they’ve acquired, and the knowledge that help will be available again in the new year, they don’t appear to be particularly worried.

“We miss them when they’re not here,” Naomi said.

“But they deserve a vacation,” Eliot said.

two young men in black and gold stripes play horns in front of black-gowned graduates in a wood gym

Talk about bandwidth: BASIC volunteer, Copper Country Coder and Learning Center Coach Parker Young also plays in Huskies Pep Band; this is the group serenading 2019 grads at Midyear Commencement on December 14.

Talk about bandwidth: BASIC volunteer, Copper Country Coder and Learning Center Coach Parker Young also plays in Huskies Pep Band; this is the group serenading 2019 grads at Midyear Commencement on December 14.

Naomi and Eliot Haycock, BASIC Saturday regulars, work through their computing to-do list with Parker Young.

Portage Lake District Library has been hosting BASIC Saturdays since the program’s inception. You’ll often find Huskies Abby Kuehne, left, and Paige Short, right, bringing fellow community members to the digital table.

Trevor Good, like many of the Huskies in Copper Country Coders, is in it for the fun of both learning and teaching.

Marissa Walther, left, and Shaun Flynn’s group works on hardware coding.

“Think of it as giant programmable hardware” — that’s how Shaun Flynn describes the Altera Board.

About the Researchers

Charles Wallace
wallace@mtu.edu
906-487-3431

Areas of Expertise

  • Software Requirements
  • Human-Centered Computing
  • Communication in Software Development
  • Formal Methods
  • Software Engineering Education
  • Agile Development Methods
  • Cyberlearning
  • Researcher Profile

Kelly Steelman
steelman@mtu.edu
906-487-2792

Research Interests

  • Basic and applied attention
  • Models of attention
  • Human performance in aviation
  • Display design
  • Tech adoption
  • Technology training

Leo Ureel
ureel@mtu.edu
906-487-1816

Areas of Expertise

  • Software Engineering
  • Computer Science Education
  • Intelligent Tutoring Systems