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Brown University has joined forces with more than a dozen research universities and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to promote robotics and computer science education for African-American students.

The Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact (ARTSI) Alliance will develop outreach programs to encourage African-American students at both the K-12 and college levels to pursue careers in computer science and robotics and will provide mentoring programs for undergraduates. The Alliance also will provide development activities for HBCU faculty who teach computer science and robotics courses. ARTSI is funded by a three-year, $2-million National Science Foundation grant.

At Brown, the program is spearheaded by Chad Jenkins, assistant professor of computer science. “The aim is to develop and strengthen pathways from HBCUs to major research universities for minority students who want to pursue graduate degrees in computer science,” Jenkins said. “Robots are a great way to inspire students because they are interactive and fun but also pose intellectually deep challenges.”

During the summers of 2008 and 2009, Jenkins will bring undergraduate HBCU students to campus for research internships. Students will develop software applications that will allow robots to more effectively interact with humans, a major research focus in Jenkins’ laboratory. African-Americans now account for just 4.8 percent of almost 2 million U.S. computer and information scientists, a job category that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will be among the fastest growing occupations over the next decade.

“To advance computing technology and robotics, we need as many great minds in the field as possible,” Jenkins said, “so it is critical to draw in dedicated and interested students, whether they choose to work in academia or the commercial sector.”

HBCUs participating in ARTSI are Spelman College, Hampton University, Morgan State University, Florida A&M University, Norfolk State University, Winston-Salem State University, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and the University of the District of Columbia.

They are joined by research universities including Brown, Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh, Georgia Institute of Technology, Duke University, University of Alabama and University of Washington that will provide research internships, mentoring opportunities and lesson plans and materials. Corporate partners include Seagate Technology, Microsoft, Apple, iRobot and Juxtopia.

Activities will include:

&bul; academic-year student research activities at HBCUs;

&bul; summer internships for HBCU students in research university labs;

&bul; an annual student research conference and workshop;

&bul; local outreach at middle and high schools serving minority populations in each HBCU’s community;

&bul; national outreach through an ARTSI web portal, currently under development.;

&bul; “viral marketing” through student-produced robotics videos on YouTube that showcase the achievements of ARTSI-affiliated students and faculty.

For more information, visit the ARTSI Alliance website and watch the online video about robotics at Brown.