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David Pendered

Tech’s Gates award, student projects highlight pace of cyber technology

Hutchins and Mynatt

Ron Hutchins and Beth Mynatt delivered awards to students at Georgia Tech’s 2012 People and Technology Forum. Credit: Donita Pendered

By David Pendered

Georgia Tech has won a $150,000 grant from the Gates Foundation that the school will use to help open the possibilities of a college degree to a brand new type of student.

Seat Me

Ying Yao (right) and Casey Mann grabbed the prize for Seat Me, a program that helps users choose a seat in a public place. Credit: Donita Pendered

Meanwhile, insights into the ways humans may come to interact with computers were on display at a campus-wide student competition. The contest explored the potential for combining uses of apps, immersive experiences and crowd-sourced information.

Taken together, the developments highlight the tremendous rate at which cyber technology is permeating everyday life. That subject, by itself, was the topic of a two-day seminar that concluded Tuesday at Tech.

The grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will enable Tech to offer in January three new courses in the distance-learning program.

These courses are expected to appeal to those who have yet to start or complete a college degree because they are at the introductory level. Similar programs tend to offer advanced subjects, according to a statement released by Tech. This distance-based program has its own language: It is a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Courses.

The three subjects will be: First Year Composition 2.0; Your World is Your Laboratory: College-Level Introductory Physics; and Introduction to Psychology as a Science.

Career Hive

Sagar Savla (left) and Adhitya Prakash won a prize for their idea to help people navigate a career fair. Credit: Donita Pendered

The value of offering a true introductory course can’t be overstated. Here’s a portion of the recommended background for an introductory astronomy course offered through a Tech partner:

  • “A familiarity with the rudiments of high-school algebra, the ability to solve an equation like 2GMr/D3 = Gm/r2 to get D = (2M/m) 1/3r and comfortably use this to obtain numerical values for D in appropriate units given values of M, m and r, and to draw and use graphs to describe the properties of functions.”

That’s from the catalogue of Coursera, a company that Tech partnered with in July to put some of its classes on the line. The introductory astronomy course is taught by
Ronen Plesser, of Duke University.

More than 140,000 students are now enrolled Tech’s classes on Coursera, according to Tech.

The student competition aims to teach students how to use modern technology to solve everyday problems. This purpose is different from another possible approach, which would be to find a problem for an existing technology to solve.

Parking Style

Sehoon Shon (from left), Sanghum Oh, Chan Jeon, and Jinhyun Kim won an award for devising a program that helps users find an open parking space. Credit: Donita Pendered

Tech has sponsored a competition for seven years, said Ron Hutchins, Tech’s chief technology officer, who presented the awards to students. Previous competitions have been sponsored by vendors, but the contest this fall was handled by Tech.

“It is sponsored by the campus for the campus,” Hutchins said. “We are planting the seeds of how we work on campus in moving toward data-enabled devices.”

Categories included:

  • Immersive experience;
  • Crowd sourced information;
  • Community and communication;
  • Classrooms and Academics;
  • Campus life and operations.

Ying Yao and Casey Mann won first prize in the “classroom and academics” category for a delightful app that has a lot of market potential:  It helps users pick a good seat in a public place.

Hutchins and Mynatt

Ron Hutchins and Beth Mynatt presented awards to students at Georgia Tech’s 2012 People and Technology Forum. Credit: Donita Pendered

“You walk into a classroom with 300 seats and you have to pick a seat,” Yao said. “This allows you to make your selection based on wifi hotspots, air conditioning …. We have a laundry list of things we want to implement before it’s released to the campus this spring.”

At least, that’s how she described it in layman’s terms. On her online resume, here’s how she described the program:

“My team recently utilized CSS3HTML5, PHP, MySQL, and Jquery Mobile in order to develop a campus-friendly, crowd-sourced mobile web app to help students find classroom seats that meet their needs, for which we won First Place in the Convergence Innovation Competition at Georgia Tech.”

Other students who were there to accept their awards included:

GT Parking Style – To help find an open parking space: Sehoon Shon, Sanghun Oh, Chan Jeon, and Jinhyun Kim.

Career Hive – To help navigate career fairs: Sagar Savla and Adhitya Prakash.

Hutchins said the winners were chosen by a panel of 40 to 50 university administrators and leaders. The plan is to roll out the programs for campus-wide use in the spring.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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