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Archive for the ‘Students Intrigued by Technology’ Category

Every once in a while something clicks and begins to make sense. This morning it happened on my way to work as I was driving on mental auto-pilot. I really am thankful for the 25 minute drive to work because if I lived closer I wouldn’t get the uninterrupted time to think that driving for a while always affords me. It is one of the only times in an otherwise very overbooked day that I get to myself.

I began to think about the computer club and some of the participation issues that have happened this year… about the robotic challenge project coming up this summer.. about the cool lunch yesterday with Steve, Eric, Dom, and Chris… about education in general… seemingly disconnected thoughts that started pulling together into a cohesive picture.

I began to think about communities of practice, of learning communities, of the difference between formal and informal interactions, between “have to” participation and “want to” participation. I turned inward and thought about my own motivations and goals, and about what situations get me excited to learn and engage. Looking back at the club activities through that lens, I saw very clearly why things changed this year in unexpected ways. After what by all measures was an amazing year last year, I fully expected this year to be more of the same, and was very excited by the people we had involved as officers. Last year we flew by the seat of our pants most of the time. We organized events over lunch or at movie night parties or while running around Second Life exploring what there was to see there.

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Saturday (March 15th) I had an opportunity to lead a workshop for the local Expanding Your Horizons conference sponsored by the Ridgecrest Women of Math and Science. This amazing conference is open to middle school girls and is designed to encourage girls to pursue non-traditional careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas. It is held at Michelson Lab on base, which is a very interesting location in itself. This year they had 158 kids from schools all over our local service area. I even saw a school bus from Lone Pine in the parking lot!

Our workshop was titled “Mission to Mars” and was a collaborative effort of several people. Cerro Coso students Rachel Schlick and Michelle Montemayor helped brainstorm the scenario. Astronauts were landing on Mars and had to race the Aliens to the home base. Rachel led the way with robot design and programming while Michelle took the lead in the artistic arena to transform a plain white box into the red planet, steaming volcano and all. We worked into the wee hours of the night on Friday to get everything ready and loaded into my Suburban, and met up at 7:45am Saturday to go to the conference.

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Friday was the local high school Preview Day where we had about 150 kids come to the college to see what we were all about. Josh, Dominick, Warner, Eric, and Jarrod helped set things up and man the table. It was fun, like usual, and I had a chance to meet several potential students (I hope!). This will be the third or fourth one I’ve participated in and we always end up seeing a few of those kids in classes the following year. That makes it worth the effort.

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Cerro Coso Community College was well represented at the Desert Empire Fair this year with three different exhibitions – the general college booth, the Automotive Hybrid Car booth, and the Students Intrigued by Technology booth. I think I was at the fair almost the entire time and it was a wonderful opportunity to talk about what we do up here. Between the three areas we had set up, fair visitors saw Cerro Coso at just about every turn!

Janis Hybrid Car

As always, it was a huge group effort and many thanks to all of those who worked, brought in supplies, etc. I’d especially like to thank John Daly and his crew, who as always, did a phenomenal job of getting things set up. Michelle Montemayor was instrumental in organizing and coordinating our S.I.T. booth. We couldn’t have pulled it off without her! Everyone who worked one of the booths, including lots and lots of students, deserves a big hand for representing our college in such a positive way.

S.I.T. Booth S.I.T. Booth

We had several activities going on throughout the fair. Club members set up a row of computers running the Linux operating system for fairgoers to try out. We initially wanted to network them altogether, but there was a little problem with the server. They used some of the computers that were rebuilt from the Salvage Project last spring. Visitors enjoyed watching our members work on the machines on site and we even got several requests to fix computers. Maybe we should go into business!

Server Problems Learning on Linux

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How do geeks spend their first weekend of Spring Break? Parting out old Pentium I, II, and III computers, of course. Our club is working with the campus IT department. We provide the manpower to sanitize hard drives, salvage usable components, and sort parts into recycle stacks. In exchange, the club gets to keep the more usable PIIIs and upgrade them with the salvaged parts. The college clears out a huge backlog of old machines and our guys get toys to play with :) It’s a win-win situation!

At dinner time, I made them all go outside and experience something rather foreign to my geek squad… sunlight, blue sky, and fresh air. They resisted at first, but they have learned that with me, resistance is futile. I made them kick around a soccer ball and play frisbee for a while. We ate pizza, played around, and took a breather from the work indoors. They couldn’t wait to get back inside and on to their tasks, however.

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I told Gavin the other day that he could only be a card-carrying member of the Nerd Herd when he could recite his favorite quote from Monte Python, verbatim, and with the appropriate accent. We have created a shared culture in this group, one that revolves around Python Quotes, curiousity about new technology, lego robotics, SNL skits, and explosives. One person can start to gallop like a horse and another will do the coconut clap to follow. We have shared experiences (“what happens in the van stays in the van!”), common aspirations (we WILL make it work!), and the trust it takes to make mistakes and learn from them. We give each other a hard time, all the time, but we know that in the end, we are there for each other. That’s what a community is all about :)

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I’m almost recovered (with emphasis on the ALMOST) from the Nerd Herd World Tour. I’m finally recouperated enough to write up the last day. We had a 15 passenger van and a car or two in our caravan, travelled about 700 miles total, visited two University of California campuses, and got to see inside a supercomputer, eat in a campus dining commons, and play on Laguna Beach at sunset among many other things. Quite a journey. Suffice to say that next time I am including a NDA as part of the paperwork to sign as our motto for this trip became “what happens in the van stays in the van!”.

Saturday morning started in Lake Forest as we kicked back and ate breakfast. Some folks played chess, while others skateboarded or just relaxed as we got ready to start the day’s activities. We then drove down to San Diego to watch the regional FIRST Robotics competition. Unbelieveable energy as teams of high school kids worked together to complete the challenge. We had the opportunity to visit with the teams from Mojave (Where’s Waldo) and Tehachapi (CyberDucks). Both were excited about the idea of working with us when we get back home and I learned more about sponsoring a high school team here in Ridgecrest. I definitely think this is something we can do!

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