Cutting-edge program entices young software developers

September 21, 2007

Gabriela Cardenas and May Cheevasittirungruang watch intently as their Legos Mindstorm robot slowly maneuvers the corners of a cardboard maze. It pauses, lowers its “claws” and picks up a ball. It then turns and rolls through several more turns before emerging across the finish line.

Gabriela Cardenas, left, and May Cheevasittirungruang are two students in an after-school program taught by ASU in partnership with the Scottsdale Unified School District. The program teaches students the most cutting-edge techniques in software development.While it may look like play, the two freshmen at Coronado High School in Scottsdale have written the computer program that directs their robot through its moves. They are students in an after-school program taught by ASU in partnership with the Scottsdale Unified School District that is teaching students the most cutting-edge techniques in software development. Download Full Image

The process, called service-oriented computing (SOC), is visually based, and software development – called “composition” by those who teach it – involves linking together “packages” of existing code to create applications. SOC is being adopted by all the major computer companies, such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and Hewlett Packard, but typically it is not taught until graduate school.

That’s too late, say ASU computer science and engineering professors Wei-Tek Tsai and Yinong Chen.

“Students at the high school grade level can master this new technique and SOC, itself, can reinvigorate American student’s interest in computer science,” Tsai says. “We’re speeding up to a whole new gear in computer technology. We need an education system that’s moving at the same pace and in the same direction.”

That interest has been waning over the years. In 2006, undergraduate enrollment nationwide in computer studies was half of what it was in 2000 – from 15,958 to 7,798, according to the Computing Research Association.

The shortage of homegrown computer scientists has prodded the National Department of Education to become more focused on funding programs to help address this need. ASU and the Scottsdale Unified School District were awarded a $600,000 three-year grant through the department’s Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education (FIPSE) to pilot the SOC class.

Chen and Tsai, along with ASU professor of curriculum and instruction Gary Bitter and Mitch Simmons, director of vocational, career and technical education for the school district, are principal investigators on the grant. The partnership to bring cutting-edge technology classes to

Scottsdale schools is a program that will be a component of SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center.

Chen says fixing the enrollment decline in computer science and engineering means refocusing what gets taught.

“Students see computer programming as labor-intensive and boring,” Chen says. “SOC changes that in a very dramatic way. Students no longer are writing lines of code. They are visually composing applications in a drag-and-click way that builds on what they have learned surfing the Internet.”

Tsai explains it this way: “It’s the difference between manufacturing a Lego piece – traditional coding – and building a structure by linking Lego pieces together – service-oriented computing.

“Say the task is to develop an online bookstore that takes orders from clients, processes those orders and places charges by using the services of remote banks. It would be very difficult to program such a system from scratch. However, if all the components can be found in service repository, the development task in SOC would be easier. This is how Web-based applications are being built.”

The dramatic differences between SOC and traditional computing call for different teaching approaches. These approaches, says Coronado computer science teacher Jeff Jordan, are perceived as “cool by high school students, because they are visual and the result is quicker. Students can create simulations and basic applications with minimal training. The immediate results they see from their work really motivates them and makes them want to learn more.”

The SOC class was sponsored by Science Foundation Arizona, and it also was offered to schoolteachers from different schools this summer. Seven out of the nine participating teachers wrote in the end-of-course evaluation that they would start the class in their schools.

Sharon Keeler

Peace Corps offers ASU students global opportunity

September 21, 2007

By establishing a global presence, ASU influences research, teaching and service worldwide – and acts as a catalyst for societal change, too.

Service, in particular, demonstrates ASU’s commitment to be a solution-focused university. Programs and practices with global application have been established at the university, but many students want to continue service beyond graduation. To meet this demand, ASU is one of the few universities that have a U.S. Peace Corps representative on site. Download Full Image

Torrey Cunningham, a 2002 ASU alumnus, is a Peace Corps recruiter for Central Arizona who had been housed at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, but he’s now located at the univerity’s Tempe Center. He has a passion for connecting ASU graduates with the federal governmental agency to provide them with meaningful volunteer opportunities in developing countries.

“In 2006, there were 47 ASU graduates serving as Peace Corps volunteers worldwide,” Cunningham says. “ASU alone has had 757 Peace Corps volunteers since 1961.”

ASU’s ranking for producing the most Peace Corps volunteers in 2006 moved up 16 spots to debut at No. 19 on the large schools list, and ASU leaders are taking steps to increase the number of Peace Corps volunteers.

It’s a goal Cunningham believes ASU easily can achieve, especially with the university’s focus on global engagement.

“We’re a knowledge-based institution that transcends borders,” says Anthony “Bud” Rock, ASU’s vice president for global engagement. “By serving in the Peace Corps, our alumni can cross the artificial lines that separate one nation from another in order to make a positive impact on human lives.”

“The Peace Corps experience makes graduates more confident in their abilities, regardless of their degree,” Cunningham adds. “By volunteering their time and talent in an underdeveloped country, they become more aware of global issues that we don’t see here in the United States.”

The mission of the Peace Corps includes:

• Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their needs for trained men and women.

• Promoting a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

• Promoting a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Jonathan Stall, a 2006 graduate of ASU majoring in supply chain management and economics, is serving in the Peace Corps in Ghana, a sub-Saharan nation in West Africa. It is considered the most impoverished region in the world.

“My work is to develop a small, community-based tourism site,” Stall says. “I work on a team of 14 community leaders and representatives that meet to manage any of the tourism issues in town. Through its growth, the town should benefit from preserving monuments and traditional culture, increased sales of crafts and tourism services, and new jobs, as well as a portion of the profits that go toward projects the town will choose and design.”

Stall says he can’t do research on the Internet or just stop by someone’s office.

“There are often indigenous rituals to go through, as well as a period of building trust between each other in intimate settings,” he says.

Even leaving things at home in Arizona has been a struggle. As a die-hard ASU Sun Devil season ticket holder, Stall says it hasn’t been easy waiting weeks just to get updates on final scores of the games.

But Stall says the experience of living and working in Ghana has been enriching.

“Most people show great appreciation that I’m trying to adopt aspects of their culture, which they are very proud of,” he says.

ASU senior Deanna Evans recently applied to the Peace Corps and is going through the interview process. The journalism and mass communication major says she doesn’t want to go right into a career after she graduates because she wants to get hands-on experience in development issues – things she cares deeply about.

“I hope that I can improve the quality of life for people at my service site and also improve myself – my interpersonal abilities and my cultural awareness,” Evans says. “I think a lot of people don’t understand what being a Peace Corps volunteer really entails. I’ve heard it said that it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love. And extremely fulfilling.”

In partnership with the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, the Peace Corps offers a master’s international program (MIP) to provide an opportunity for students to combine academic course work with a practical field experience.

Students must meet the ASU admission requirements and the requirements established by the Peace Corps for volunteer service.

In-class presentations on Peace Corps volunteer opportunities can be scheduled by contacting Torrey Cunningham at (480) 727-8866 or The Peace Corps recruitment office is located at 951 S. Mill Ave. in the ASU Tempe Center, Suite 195-A.

Editor's note: Comments by Jonathan Stall are reprinted with permission from Rancher’s Roundup, Dobson Ranch, Mesa, Ariz.

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