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High school students interested in learning about computer science in a college setting can now apply to UCI’s inaugural Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) Summer Academy. For 2022, the ICS Summer Academy will be offering a two-week session titled, “DATA — Data Analytics: Theory & Applications.” From July 25 to Aug. 5, high school students will be on campus Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., exploring the foundations of data science with real-world, hands-on projects.

“Computer science is more than just programming. The whole idea behind the summer academy is to offer a selection of courses to help high school students explore the various areas and topics that comprise the ever-changing and growing field of computing,” explains Computer Science Professor Magda El Zarki, the director of the academy leading this effort. “We’re starting off with this one course on data analytics. It is a great way to launch the program given the tremendous interest that students have in data — it’s the big thing these days.”

Camp attendees will spend their days in the new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building (ISEB) at UCI, learning about data science methods and concepts through hands-on projects using (anonymized) health data from actual patients.

The new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building (ISEB) at UCI.

Mornings will start with lessons from Professor Babak Shahbaba of UCI’s Department of Statistics or from Professor Sam Behseta of Cal State Fullerton’s Department of Mathematics. They will be teaching students how to collect, process, summarize and visualize data. After a daily lunch break, highly qualified and trained UCI graduate and undergraduate students will lead small teams working on projects related to actual datasets often drawn for biological and medical sciences. The teams will make predictions using statistical models, test scientific hypotheses using statistical inference techniques, and make decisions under uncertainty by applying statistical thinking.

“For the students, it will be exciting to work with actual datasets and see what it’s like to make sense from databases comprising a jumble of numbers and more,” says El Zarki. “Students will learn how to manipulate the data, make the models, analyze their results and present it in a way that illustrates certain interesting conclusions. It will be an eye-opener for a lot of kids!” Students will also get to tour the campus; visit research labs in the School’s Departments of Computer ScienceInformatics, and Statistics; and explore career pathways in the many related fields of computing.

Interested students must apply online by May 6, 2022. The application is short but does require the name, title and email address of a teacher, principal or school administrator who (when contacted) can submit a letter of recommendation (also by the May 6 deadline). There is no application fee, and the $2,500 program cost covers lunches, snacks and all materials required (ICS will provide laptops with all the software needed for the course). The first cohort will likely be around 30 students.

The plan is for the ICS Summer Academy to grow in offerings and cohort size. The goal for next year is to offer three or four courses, eventually building up to around six to eight courses by 2025, serving up to 250 students each year.

“I’m very positive about this effort for the future, because I think it’s very different from anything else out there,” says El Zarki. “We already have faculty really interested in covering other areas.” The focus of future sessions might include security, game development, the Internet of Things (IoT), AI and machine learning, quantum computing, and more. There might also be more advanced sessions on certain topics for those interested in learning more about a particular field.

“The goal of the Summer Academy is to help students explore and get a better understanding of what it means to be a computer scientist and the exciting careers that one can pursue being one,” says El Zarki. “We want to give them a good sense of the diversity and vastness of the field of computing —all the areas of expertise and knowledge that it encompasses and that make it so exciting.”

— Shani Murray