KINGSTON — Drones hovered and small robots zipped around the floor of the Ryan Center as 2,000 students from across Rhode Island gathered for the second annual CS4RI, or Computer Science for Rhode Island, summit Wednesday.
CS4RI is a joint effort launched a year and a half ago by Gov. Gina Raimondo, the Rhode Island Office of Innovation and the Rhode Island Department of Education. Raimondo used the occasion to announce her plan to double the number of graduates with computer degrees by the year 2025.
"Computer science is essential for us to equip all students — no matter their race, gender or zip code — with the skills they need to be competitive for the high-wage, high-growth jobs that companies like Infosys, Johnson & Johnson and GE Digital are creating in Rhode Island,” she said. “By 2020, projections show that there will be more than 2,500 open jobs in computer science. Our new goal will ensure that our students can not only compete for those jobs, but start their own tech companies and become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos."
The Chariho Regional School District sent 50 students from the middle and high schools to the summit. Computer science teacher Rachel Franklin brought students from her programming and robotics classes.
“We focus mainly on programming and Java,” she said. “Some of my students are showcasing their work. One of them has independently made a program that essentially works as a hangman game.”
Bryan Lucas, a computer science teacher at the middle school, stood near a table where his students were demonstrating a small, round robot named “Sphero.”
“It is a programmable robot that we use in class to supplement our computer science studies,” he said. “It’s been a big, big success. The kids have really had a lot of fun showing it, and there’s been a lot of interest in the device as well.”
Sphero seemed to be attracting a lot of attention from summit participants. Aidan Peppard, a 7th-grader, showed Samantha Rodriguez, a student at Woonsocket Middle School, how to control Sphero using an iPad.
“Our school bought bought a package of them for us to use for hands-on interactive coding,” he said. “Right now, we’re letting people drive them around.”
“I like it,” Rodriguez said, her eyes on Sphero. “I think it’s cool because I never saw something like that before.”
Next to Peppard was high school student David Spencer, inventor of the computerized hangman game, and Brent Marler, who had brought a lawn-mowing robot that he and fellow student Kris Chester had made.
“It’s an automatic lawn-mower, basically,” Marler said. “It just drives around randomly and will hopefully mow your entire yard while you’re away.”
Raimondo and industry representatives are making a special effort to encourage more young women to pursue computer science careers. Among the industry exhibitors was the Denver-based National Center for Women in Information Technology, which has 11,000 member organizations across the country.
“We work to get more women and girls engaged in computer science careers,” spokeswoman Kate Pickle said. “We start with girls in high school, giving them an award in computing to recognize their interest and continue to support them through college and career.”
Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Ken Wagner said every community in Rhode Island was now participating in CS4RI, making the state a leader in computer science education.
"In recent data released on college-level coursework, Rhode Island emerged at the top of the list for schools nationwide offering AP computer science opportunities,” he said. “We are the state to watch, and I look forward to growing that reputation as we continue to open up new 21st-century learning opportunities for all students.”