This article is published in the May 2017 issue.

Discover More About the CRA-W’s Collaborative REU Program: Consider Applying Today


CRA-W’s Collaborative Research Experience for Undergraduates (CREU) program supports students while they gain valuable experience by working on research projects under the guidance of faculty mentors. The article below, which is written by a team currently at Kennesaw State University, gives a firsthand perspective of the program’s benefits. The team, which is funded by the CREU program, has presented their research at ACM Mid-Southeast 2016 in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and SIGCSE 2017 in Seattle, Wash. Faculty member Amber Wagner and her students Deja Jackson, Erica Pantoja, Cindi Simmons, and Kathelyn Zelaya from Kennesaw State University have been working on the research project “Analyzing the Potential of Learning Reading and Math Skills Through Computational Thinking  throughout the 2016-2017 academic year.

CREU-Team-at-SIGCSEResearch allows you to look at a problem and think both logically and creatively to find a solution. Since every project is so different and has such a varying goal, there isn’t technically a wrong answer. In this project, we are examining how a block programming language can improve elementary students’ math and literacy skills while increasing their computational thinking. Throughout this process we have learned a tremendous amount of new skills, including how to read research papers to gain information and, more importantly, how to decipher applicable research papers from non-applicable research papers. We have also learned CSS, HTML, and JavaScript, which are not taught in any of our coursework. We have learned to use various tools to improve our teamwork (e.g., GitHub and Slack), which has helped us learn how to work together as a team. Working in this group project has been a surprisingly pleasant experience compared to classroom group projects because each of us are contributing and feel our voice is heard. Perhaps the most beneficial side effect of working on this project, thus far, has been experiencing an example of how we can apply the skills we have learned in the classroom to a real-life job or application as a developer. In fact, we have already translated these skills by serving as mentors in other groups due to the knowledge we gained on this project (i.e., Girls, Inc. of Greater Atlanta and Technovation Atlanta).

Because of the work we have conducted on this project, we were fortunate to present at ACM Mid-Southeast 2016 in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and SIGCSE 2017 in Seattle, Wash. Something exciting about both of these presentations was that the attendees showed genuine interest in our presentations and asked questions, which does not typically occur during class presentations. It taught us the importance of preparing thoughtful presentations and to think ahead about possible audience questions. Talking about the project with professors, other students, and industry professionals was beneficial, and they each provided unique and excellent advice regarding how we could expand or improve the project. Also, attending other presentations was fascinating. We learned about several new technologies, which inspired us to think about different applications to develop in the future.

Overall, this has been an incredible experience that allowed us to apply what we have learned in the classroom while creating something we passionately believe in and want to see succeed. We are grateful for the opportunity to spend our time doing research!

The CREU program is currently accepting applications for the 2017-2018 academic year. The application cycle is open through May 18. For more information regarding the eligibility and application materials, please visit http://cra.org/cra-w/creu/.