DENHAM SPRINGS — A select group of Denham Springs High School students are learning advanced computer skills through participation in the GeauxCS program launched this year by the Division of Computer Science and Engineering at LSU.
During a recent session at the high school, about two dozen students were plugging tiny wires into small circuit boards while watching the results of their efforts on laptop screens. The students were exploring basic coding and hardware assembly under the tutelage of a team of LSU students who were supervised by faculty and staff associated with computer science at the university.
"The students seem to be enjoying the classes very much, and what we have to offer through GeauxCS is expanding on what they are learning in their regular classes," said Gargi Sakar, recruitment associate for the Division of Computer Science and Engineering. "We are focusing on the students learning the connection between software and hardware and how the two work together. The students are learning how to modify code and how those modifications affect results one is seeking on a computer.”
At the same time, Sakar said, GeauxCS is also seeking to introduce women and minorities to the computer sciences. “Everyone sees their particular field in a special way and everyone brings different viewpoints to a specific discipline. We need those different viewpoints in the technical world and women can bring a perspective from a population that is under represented in the tech fields,” she said.
Denham Springs High faculty member Sarah Halphen, who teaches AP computer science principles and AP statistics and advanced mathematics, said the program provides a great opportunity to her students.
"They are getting some hands-on experience from well-trained computer science collegians, and they are really getting involved in the program," she said. "LSU not only provided the instructors for the program, but they also bought the special kits that our students train on. Each student received a kit, and these kits are somewhat expensive. Our students are really benefiting from this effort on the part of LSU.”
Halphen explained that the high school students in the GeauxCS program will be given six one-hour sessions with the LSU mentors this semester and will attend a final session on the LSU campus. The class is divided into small groups, and each group has an LSU student who works with his or her high school counterparts in solving challenges associated with their computer programming.
Jenny Hileman, of the College of Engineering and Recruitment and a member of the Outreach Team from LSU, said that the collegiate mentors applied for a position on the GeauxCS team and, once chosen, were given advanced training. She said that the training of the students is an ongoing process as the mentors continue to expand on their knowledge of the field.
Also overseeing the program was Patti Aymond, instructor and undergraduate coordinator of the LSU Computer Science Department. Aymond said that preparing computer professionals for the future is a critical mission for colleges and universities.
“Software development commands tremendous attention today," she said. "The supply of computer technicians and engineers doesn’t come close to meeting the demand. Students who major in computer science fields have no problem finding jobs, and they command top salaries."
She said that a “vibrant, lively market exists in Louisiana for computer science majors and programmers. I’ve never known anyone who wanted to stay in the state and pursue a career in computer science who couldn’t find a job. Our students certainly have no problem finding jobs, and many are recruited by some of the nation’s top companies.”
Sakar, a native of India, holds degrees in psychology. She said she is interested in complex learning and memory and the psychology of education. Her concentration in the field of education and interest in learning led to her involvement in the Geaux CS program and student recruitment for the important fields of computer science and engineering.
“The students we have met here at Denham Springs High School and the Academy of the Sacred Heart, the two schools invited to participate in the GeauxCS program, have shown us that there is a tremendous interest in the computer fields at the high school level and that these young students are eager to learn all they can about computers," she said. "Our outreach program is showing positive results for the future of the computer fields in the schools where we have started this program.”