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Summer camps at ASU offer academic challenges, fun, sports for K-12

ASU offers free Russian language-immersion summer day camp for high schoolers.
March 26, 2018

Free Russian day camp provides immersion lessons, path to accelerated degree

While summer is a time for teenagers to relax and have some fun, it's also a great chance to get a leg up on their education. Several enrichment programs at Arizona State University will offer high-level learning that can prepare them for college. 

Every summer, ASU hosts dozens of summer camps for young people ranging from toddlers to high schoolers that provide activities in the arts, sports and math and science. Some are just for fun, like Sun Devil Kids Camp. Others, like the 7Up Robotics Camp and the Young Adult Writing Program, offer unique and academically challenging experiences. The Summer Design Primer and the Digital Culture Summer Institute will introduce middle and high school students to careers in architecture, three-dimensional design and game making.

ASU also offers the only STARTALK programs in Arizona — prestigious language-immersion courses that are funded by the National Security Agency to encourage the teaching of critical-need languagesThose languages are Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish and Urdu.. Eighth- to 12th-graders can take three weeks of Mandarin in a residential camp at ASU that costs $150, while the three-week day camp that teaches Russian is free.

Competition nationwide to host the STARTALK camps is fierce, and ASU’s Melikian Center is one of only a handful of programs that teaches Russian to high school students in the country. This will be the third year for the camp, while the Mandarin program is in its 10th year on ASU’s Tempe campus.

The goal is for beginners to spend nearly 100 percent of the time speaking in the new language, according to Andrew Gunn, educational outreach specialist for the Melikian Center.

“On the first Monday they’re learning basic vocabulary and grammar, and they are using it on Tuesday,” he said.

Students talk to a Russian family via Skype at an ASU language camp

Students in the 2017 Russian summer camp speak with a family in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, via Skype. Photo courtesy of the Melikian Center

A key component of the course is video interaction with host families who live in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The conversations, entirely in Russian, cover daily life like what the family buys and cooks for meals.

The Russian program is an opportunity for high schoolers to accelerate their college degree, Gunn said. The Critical Languages Institute in the Melikian Center offers summer language programs — including travel abroad — that are open to high school students to earn ASU credit. Conceivably, a 10th-grader who begins with STARTALK and moves onto the Critical Language Institute programs in Russian could begin as a freshman at ASU with up to 26 language credits acquired at a reduced cost, thanks to federal funding. They can even stay with the host families in Bishkek they first met via Skype.

The goal is to create truly proficient speakers, Gunn said.

“And with Mandarin and Russian, that’s extremely hard to do. It does take six or even 10 years,” he said.

Xia Zhang, director of the STARTALK Chinese program and a lecturer who teaches Chinese, said many schools in the Valley teach the language and the ASU camp is a good way for those students to keep their skills sharp. ASU’s is one of only seven residential Chinese STARTALK programs in the country. Class sizes are small, and all of the resident advisers are bilingual in English and Chinese.

Students perform in a showcase at ASU STARTALK Mandarin camp

Students in the 2017 Chinese summer camp present their showcase on the last day of the camp, showing what they learned. Photo courtesy of the STARTALK Chinese camp

The Chinese program is a pathway to a specialized degree via the Flagship program at ASU, which offers scholarships for study in China.

“Students learn not only the language but they also have cultural experiences, take field trips and in the evenings, they get one-on-one tutoring,” she said. “Everything is focused on real-experiences.”

Both Zhang and Gunn said that evaluators visit the camps to gauge how well they’re doing.

“They’re always amazed at how much students can learn in such a short time,” she said.

Learn more about the STARTALK Mandarin program; details on the Russian campsummer-enrichment programs for toddlers and students in K-12 offered by Education Outreach and Student Services at ASU; and sports camps, including lacrosse, swimming, wrestling and golf. 

Top photo: Students in the 2017 Chinese summer camp perform in the showcase on the last day of the camp. Photo courtesy of the STARTALK Chinese camp

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Autonomous vehicles traveling the wrong road to safety, engineer says

We should hold autonomous vehicles to a higher standard, ASU engineer says.
March 26, 2018

ASU computer science prof asks, 'Why we would try to simulate human driving in AVs, when human driving is inherently flawed?'

The current method of programming autonomous vehicles may not be safe, according to Aviral Shrivastava, a computer science associate professor in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“Google, Uber and others in the field are using humans to teach cars how to drive themselves,” explained Shrivastava. “And that’s the problem. They are learning from human drivers, all of whom are fallible, and the autonomous cars are in turn mirroring our unsafe driving behaviors.”

Shrivastava is known on campus for his embedded computing course, which challenges students to engineer a self-navigating, obstacle-avoiding toy race car complete with GPS, a laser surveying system (LIDAR), an inertial measurement unit to calculate distances and other sensing tools used in full-scale autonomous vehicles. 

“The autonomous car industry is trying to walk a line between a human-like driving experience and guaranteed safety. At the moment, the familiarity of human-like driving is the norm and puts safety at risk.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

A fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber vehicle and a pedestrian earlier this month in Tempe, Arizona, caused Uber to suspend its driverless operations in Arizona. On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey suspended Uber's tests of self-driving cars on Arizona roads, according to The Arizona Republic.

The video captured by the vehicle just before the March 18 accident illustrates the pedestrian was crossing the road, outside of a pedestrian walkway, in the dark. Lights from the car, streetlights and ambient lighting failed to illuminate the pedestrian.

“Since the Uber car could not detect anything in the dark area, it did what a human driver might have done — proceeded as though there was no one in the road. When the car’s lights brought the woman suddenly into view, the car was travelling too fast to stop,” Shrivastava said.

Shrivastava asserts that an autonomous vehicle should travel only at the speed at which it can stop before its range of vision ends — the vehicle should be traveling slowly enough that it can instantly stop if an obstruction suddenly comes into view.

“When encountering a situation like that on Mill Avenue, a safety-focused vehicle’s computer would assume there is an obstacle in the unlighted area and proceed accordingly, unlike humans who often assume that the path ahead is clear,” he said.

Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir said, “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident,” concluding that regardless of whether the vehicle was driven by a human or autonomously, “it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.”

However, expectations for a human driver and autonomous cars are very different, said Shrivastava.

“If a human driver causes an accident, it is unfortunate but normal,” he said. “If an autonomous car causes an accident on the other hand, it is unacceptable, and it can shut down the whole autonomous car industry.”

“As long as human behaviors are the foundation of automated driving technology, safety will continue to be an issue,” Shrivastava added. “The priority for autonomous cars should be safety, rather than a human-like driving experience.”

Shrivastava’s research, funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation, focuses on cyber-physical systems designs — mechanisms like autonomous vehicles in which a computer controls a physical system — that guarantee the behavior of the systems.                  

“For example, we look at how can we build a car in which there is a guarantee that if an obstacle is detected, brakes will be applied within one millisecond,” explained Shrivasta.  

Recently, Shrivastava developed an algorithm for autonomous cars that promises to more than double the throughput of traffic intersections, “which are really the most important bottleneck in city traffic,” he said. While the system will work only on roads that are fully autonomous, “the communications and calculations we’ve developed will enable autonomous cars to zip through intersections at full speed or with just a minor slow-down.”

Top photo: Associate Professor Aviral Shrivastava's research involves programming fully autonomous toy cars. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now