Students Participate in Robotics at UPenn


Written By: Kelly Ho ’20

Kelly Ho ’22 interviewed Jessica Nneji ’20, Travis Short ’21 and Tionne Thornton ’21 who had the opportunity to work with robots at the University of Penn this past summer.  Learn more about the program and their experiences below!

Why did you join the robotics program?

Jessica: At first, I was nominated by my teacher to join the Robotics program. So I was interested in the program at first and as I learned more about it I decided to try it out and overall I had an amazing and challenging experience.
Tionne: Before I joined this program I already knew a little about coding but I wasn’t exactly good at it. So I did this program to see how much more I could improve.
Travis: I signed up for the robotics program because I thought this would’ve been a great first step as an introduction into becoming an engineer. Along with Tionne, I already knew a little bit about coding but we weren’t exactly great at it. So I was hoping this program would help and educate me more on my path to being an engineer.

What is the robotics program about?

Jessica: The program is generally about robotics and engineering and we went into detail about coding and electronics.
Tionne: Mostly, we went over JavaScript, which is a coding language. Learning Java is knowing the basics of programming. We learned about how to program this robot named Sparki, where we would use codes to control him and perform actions like moving etc.
Travis: During the month of the program the students mostly just practiced writing code with java and taking notes on how methods and data types functioned for a week and a half. For the remainder of the program, the students were taught how to make the robot Sparki do various tasks such as edge detection, sensor control, drawing.

Did you meet any new people there?

Jessica: Yes, I made new friends through the group work activities that we worked on together. For example, we built this Sparki robot that we programmed it to perform activities, like pick up items or move. We also made it go through a maze, which was really fun.
Tionne: I made two new friends that go to Central, and they were really nice. I mainly spent time with Travis and our group, but together, we got through our tasks together.
Travis: I did work with Tionne extensively during the program, and Jessica was there as well, although I wasn’t able to interact with her that much. But, as the program required a lot of group work, I was able to grow closer with students from other schools, as we worked together to complete our task.

Did this program help you grow? If so, in what way?

Jessica: Yes, we used math to calculate codes which really helps me in Algebra 2 now. It allowed me to become more professional in the area where I am. Basically, I learned more about electronics and computers, especially coding. In general, it was really fun, especially the group work.
Tionne: It was a very helpful program overall because we used trigonometry and algebra which I understand better now compared to before I did this program.
Travis: From my experience with the program I learned to be more open about different subjects since I really disliked coding when I first started learning it, but I eventually started to really enjoy it by the end of the second week.

What was your favorite memory during the program?

Jessica: I remember coding for a game where we would have to shoot a ball into the hoop. If we missed, then our group would have to restart again. We used the programs Sparkie and Codecademy that helped us program our Sparki robot. I would say that I really enjoyed learning how to code through the process of trial and error.
Tionne: My favorite part of the program was when Travis and our group made a game together. We put so much effort into making the game actually work and when it was successful we felt so accomplished after so many trials and errors.
Travis: My favorite part of the program was the last week, since the students were assigned to navigate their robot through an obstacle course, as well as creating some type of game with java programming.

Did you enjoy your experience there?

Jessica: Yes, I actually loved it because I made a lot of friends that helped me understand what I was doing. My favorite part in general was working together with my group, seeing different people from different schools and their ambitions. It inspired me to grow as well, and the program itself was amazing because it really prepared us for college.
Tionne: I did enjoy my experience there because it helped me grow more. I specifically remember hearing that there were not many girls or people of color there. That made me proud to be a part of the program, and I especially recommend it to diverse people to broaden the field overall. In general, it’s fun and if you’re up for a challenge, I recommend joining the robotics program.
Travis: Yes, my experience there overall allowed me to enjoy coding a little more than I did before, and progress along my path of engineering.

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