Mindcraft workshop

CMU-Q introduces high schoolers to computing

Mindcraft outreach program engages students in the precision and possibility of a career in computer science

As computer science becomes integral to more and more fields of study, Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q) is reaching out to high schoolers to introduce them to the field. The Computer Science Program at CMU-Q has teamed up with Boeing to design and deliver the “Mindcraft” workshops, day-long sessions that guide students through computer science disciplines like robotics, cryptography, and computational thinking.

Leading the project is Khaled Harras, program director and associate professor of computer science at CMU-Q: “The National Vision 2030 is to transform Qatar into a knowledge-based economy; computer science knowledge is an unavoidable requirement to help materialize this vision. We want to have a deep impact.”

Since launching the program in September, high school students from around Qatar have participated in the Saturday workshops taught by computer science faculty members, researchers and engineers.

“Boeing is proud to support programs that aim to inspire our next generation of leaders and innovators to pursue careers in STEM-related fields,” said Maria Laine, vice president of International Strategic Partnerships for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “Through this new initiative, students will have access to challenges and workshops that introduce them to a range of computer science material that can help give them the 21st century skills and knowledge they need to be successful long-term.”

“Computing will be important to these students, no matter what they study in university; many advancements in other fields of science, engineering and even humanities have been further enabled with the integration of various computer science disciplines” remarked Harras.

Participant Gabriel Bullen is an 11th-grade aspiring filmmaker at Qatar Academy. He learned of Mindcraft through his school counsellor. “Computers and technology are of course a major part of life, and they have also become such a big part of filmmaking and art in general. That really made me want to try Mindcraft to understand more about how I can use them in my films.”

Just a few hours into the workshop, Mohammed Al-Sayed of the Academic Bridge Program had learned the difference between Java and Python programming languages and used functions to solve tasks. He is now inspired to create his own apps.

“One recent idea that I had that got me quite excited about programming is making a mobile application to create economic competition between garages in Qatar. You could look at the app and see what garages are selling things for, and compare prices,” he says.

While Bullen and Al-Sayed had previous experience with programming, one challenge for the Mindcraft facilitators is to create workshops that can accommodate varying levels of student skills without intimidating or excluding anyone.

“We have worked hard to ensure that the Mindcraft program is both interesting and educational. We don’t want anyone to feel bored because it is too basic, or left behind because it is too advanced,” says Nour Tabet, outreach coordinator in the Computer Science Program at CMU-Q. She adds that future plans include a similar program aimed at students in grades seven through nine.

Interested students can apply for Mindcraft here.

Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar is now accepting applications to the Computer Science Program for fall 2017, as well as its other programs in biological sciences, business administration, computational biology and information systems.