Computer Science Students Teaching Robots Tai Chi

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“In a computer lab at Harvey Mudd College in California (Mrs. Richmond’s Alma Mater), a small robot performs the graceful movements of tai chi, an ancient Chinese meditation exercise. Student Jane Wu writes instruction codes from a nearby computer, showing a visitor a simple form of robotics and artificial intelligence.

Wu is a third-year student in mathematics and computer science at the college, a leader in attracting women to high technology.

‘I think the moment for me was during my freshman robotics elective [class] that I took, called Autonomous Vehicles,’ she said of her decision to pursue a computer science career, ‘and in that class we got to make our own autonomous robots from scratch.’

Harvey Mudd College, with just 800 students, stresses engineering, and is part of an educational cluster called The Claremont Colleges, in the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles. It was named after a mining engineer who helped to found the school.

The school overhauled its computer science program a decade ago to make the discipline less intimidating to those with little background in computers. The effort has yielded results: last year more than half of the college’s graduates in computer science were women. Students are initially placed in academic streams based on their knowledge of computers to reduce the intimidation factor, and many later come to understand that computer science is ‘a beautiful intellectual discipline,’ says professor Ran Libeskind-Hadas, ‘but also, or course, a useful and practical one.'”

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