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Department of Computer and Information Sciences Awarded More Than $2 Million in Grants

Clement Allen, an associate professor in Florida A&M University’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences, (right) discusses of one FAMU’s robots, Chiara, with John S. Brown, Jr., a graduate student majoring in software engineering.

December 11, 2009

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Despite the economic crisis plaguing the nation, Florida A&M University (FAMU) Department of Computer Information Sciences (CIS) has garnered more than $2 million in grants to support academic and research efforts within the department.

The largest of the funds is a $1 million grant from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to establish the Minority Innovation Challenges Institute (MICI). The purpose of MICI is to get more minority students around the country to become interested in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields by using the NASA Centennial Challenges as a motivating factor.

According to Clement Allen, CIS associate professor and the principal investigator for the grant, the NASA Centennial Challenges are a set of fascinating, monetary contests used by NASA to spur innovations in space technologies.  They offer contests where individuals and groups compete for money and fame.  For example, there is a contest to design and build a better astronaut glove and a contest to build a robot that can excavate dirt on the moon.

FAMU is the first institution to establish a MICI with funding from NASA, and will work with other minority-serving institutions in the nation to mentor students.

The MICI will mentor students at minority serving institutions around the country. MICI will feature a year-round virtual conference to provide video, question and answer sessions, networking opportunities and other resources, with a focus on a different contest each month.

Through MICI, which is funded for three years, Allen aims to foster further research in technology areas meaningful to NASA. He will also work to motivate students to become involved in STEM disciplines related to NASA and inspire them to seek employment at NASA or a NASA contractor. 

“Technology contests have proven to be a powerful way to stimulate student interest in STEM related disciplines,” he said. “MICI will strive to increase the number of underrepresented students participating in these contests.”

The CIS Department was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP) for Integrating Computation into STEM Education.  The project, “Computation for STEM Education (C-STEM),” is a three-year, $600,000 award. 

The goals of this project are to increase the number of STEM students who graduate with discipline-specific computational skills, and to stimulate increased use of computation in the teaching of STEM disciplines at FAMU.  This project has the potential to effect long-term improvement in science and engineering education at FAMU through increased use of computation in the teaching of STEM disciplines. The outreach component of the project includes working with area high school science teachers to promote their use of computation in science courses.

FAMU also received an award from the National Science Foundation for $280,000 to continue to host the Tri-Regional Information Technology Program (Tri-IT).

Tri-IT is an alliance of three colleges – Florida State College at Jacksonville, FAMU and Seminole Community College.  The goal is to engage female high school students interested in technology and encourage them to consider college degrees and careers in the field of information technology (IT). It is an “after-school” type program that teaches students about the latest and greatest technology.

“This program, along with the African American Women in Computer Science (AAWCS) scholarship program and the STARS Alliance, has established FAMU as a leader in addressing the shortage of minority women in IT,” said Jason Black, co-principal investigator.

Another $300,000 award from the National Science Foundation will explore the use of studio-based and active learning techniques in formative CIS courses. The project is titled “Evolution to Studio-Based Active Learning.”  The project goal is to transform incrementally the instructional paradigm used in formative programming courses. Traditional lecture-based instruction, where the teacher is primarily a transmitter of knowledge, will be augmented by active-learning activities, where the teacher coaches student problem solving and exploration.

Expected project outcomes include higher retention in the CIS major, increased mastery of foundational skills, improved technical communication skills and enhanced critical thinking.

CIS faculty is also working with students on various robotic projects funded by the National Science Foundation.  Some of the robots that have been created have the ability to play tag, follow a line around a track and even deliver mail. The central focus of the project is to stimulate interest in computer science.

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