Trinity Student Spends Summer Teaching Coding to Middle Schoolers

Mariam Avagyan ’18 Helps Lead ‘Zero Robotics’ Program as Part of Internship

​Hartford, Connecticut, September 12, 2017—For four weeks this summer, Trinity College student Mariam Avagyan ’18 taught coding in the Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program at Central Connecticut State University. The course for students entering sixth through ninth grade was part of the Tech It Out series offered by CCSU’s Office of Continuing Education.

​Mariam Avagyan ’18 taught coding to middle school students this summer as part of her internship with the Connecticut chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS).
Avagyan, who is double-majoring in mathematics and engineering with a concentration in electrical, completed a summer internship with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS) chapter in Connecticut. A large part of the internship involved planning the Zero Robotics program and teaching alongside professional instructors and roboticists Robert Felekey, a science teacher at King Philip Middle School in West Hartford; Haoyu Wang, associate professor of robotics and mechatronics engineering technology in CCSU’s School of Engineering, Science, and Technology; and Biao Zhang, the chapter chair of IEEE RAS in Connecticut and co-chair of the IEEE RAS Chapters and International Activities Committee (CIAC).

This experience offered Avagyan some unique networking opportunities and insights into her field of study. “I got to work with a lot of people I would never have gotten to work with otherwise,” Avagyan said. “I learned how to communicate with people who actually do engineering, how to be a professional in that field, and how to teach kids on their level in a fun way.”

The course was taught in two two-week sessions, during which time about 35 students from across the state were introduced to computer programming, robotics, and space engineering, and had hands-on experience programming SPHERES (Synchronized, Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites). The program included a tour of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and culminated in a programming game tournament in which winning teams’ SPHERES competed aboard the International Space Station and received feedback from NASA astronauts.

For Avagyan, one of the best parts of teaching the Zero Robotics course was to see how much the students learned in just a few weeks. “When they first came in, they knew nothing about coding. It was amazing to see how quickly they learned. These kids learned some basic, important parts of coding, and they were so good at it,” she said. By the end of the program, Avagyan had students tell her that they wanted to study robotics or become astronauts. “It made me feel accomplished,” she added.

Mariam Avagyan ’18 instructed students in the classroom and in simulated tests of the programming designed for their robots.

Before this summer, Avagyan had mentoring experience as a volunteer teaching robotics at King Philip Middle School and leading activities during the American Association of University Women’s hands-on Tech Savvy workshops, which encourage girls to explore math and science. She helped to reboot the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Club at Trinity and has served terms as the club’s president, vice president, treasurer, and outreach coordinator. After graduating from Trinity, Avagyan plans to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering.

Assistant Professor of Engineering Kevin Huang ’12 volunteered in the Zero Robotics program and said that it was inspiring to see Avagyan teaching eager young students. “Mariam was self-driven to run this program. It’s something she wanted to do, and she leads by example,” Huang said. He added that Avagyan had great success with recruiting other Trinity students as volunteers.  

Huang said that the summer program made learning about robotics very appealing to the students. “There’s a game element to it, and you actually get to see these physical systems doing what you programmed them to do,” he said. “It’s a really great way to get students interested in programming.”

Following her success running the Zero Robotics program this summer, Avagyan said that she hopes more Trinity students pursue the IEEE RAS internship next year. “I’m putting together a module for the program,” she said. “I’m documenting everything we did so next year’s interns can follow that.”

Huang added that he is optimistic about the partnerships this program might lead to between Trinity, other higher education institutions, and professionals in the field of robotics. He said, “I think there’s potential for this new direction that would be great for future students, and that door was opened by a Trinity student.”

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli