Iowa City Press-Citizen: UI Hosts Innovation Institute--Tech, Entrepreneurship Camp

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"I want to do something with electrical or computers," he said. "Either software or hardware, I'm not sure, but definitely in engineering."

Abdo and 19 other Iowa high school incoming sophomores, juniors and seniors were chosen to participate in the Innovation Institute — a new two-week University of Iowa intensive summer program that focused on technical and entrepreneurial skills.

"I've really enjoyed the experience," Abdo said. "The classroom atmosphere is not what I was expecting in terms of how much they were teaching us. They do a very good job mixing the coding aspect of the camp, but there's a lot of entrepreneurship involved."

The Innovation Institute is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, innovators, a growing partnership between the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business and the UI College of Education.

The students participated in group and class sessions with two co-instructors, Steven Davis and Danelle Knoche, while living on campus. The last day of the camp was July 18.

Knoche said the camp exceeded expectations in its first year with both the diversity and skill-set of each teenager.

"Steve and I have been changing a lot of the curriculum as we go, catering to the kids' needs," the computer science and math teacher at City High said. "We have 20 kids at very diverse levels of their skills. They are all skilled in something, but all in different things."

It can be challenging to cater to all of them, Knoche said.

"The idea was to get kids from across the state of Iowa, from a range of schools," she said. "We have kids from small schools and we have big schools that might not have an opportunity to learn some of these skills and these programs that we are teaching the kids to use."

It also gives the students an opportunity to work together and network.

"Some of the kids come from schools where they don't have necessarily anyone else interested in what they are interested in," Knoche said. "And so this gives them a chance to work together.

Davis said the kids have definitely come together as a team.

"We have them working in teams because I feel as someone from the industry that an extremely important aspect of education is the ability to not just regurgitate information, but to problem solve and learn on their own," he said. "But do that as a team because in the real world there are very few scenarios where you'll work a project by yourself."

Davis is the president and lead developer for local software company Bio::Neos and helps expose the students to the entrepreneurial side of science from his own experience.

For the camp, the kids divided into groups of four and began developing an idea, mostly web applications, as a team.

Each student submitted an idea on day two of the camp. Five were chosen based on student and instructor voting. Abdo's idea was one of the chosen.

"We are developing a shared calendar for families," Abdo said. "A lot of people have asked if it'll be like Google calendar. The main difference is the user interface will be very, very simple for users from ages 7 to 70 to use."

And Knoche said the goal is for the groups to continue working on their projects together electronically over the coming months. Each group is asked to present their final products at Hawkeye Innovation Day in March 2015.

In the end, Abdo said the camp was a good place to get started on his future.

"I enjoyed meeting people and have made great friends," he said. "I encourage anyone considering applying for the camp to do it. It's a little awkward on the first day, but by the second you'll make great bonds."