The mission of the STEM Incubator Program is to convey to students, as early as their freshman year, the excitement and relevance of computer science, from its base in physics, electronics, and hardware to its computational problem-solving capabilities through programming and software. By means of hands-on, collaborative projects that have meaningful associations with human relationships, problems, needs, and creative expression, the STEM Incubator Program is intended to capture the interest of a wide range of students, even those who may not immediately think they are inclined toward or have aptitude for the sciences.
Each course offered in the STEM Incubator Program has a different focus – e.g., sensors, robotics, digital sound and music, bioinformatics, 3D printing with dynamic microprocessor-driven parts, and so forth. Some course sections have an emphasis on electronics and hardware and produce concrete artifacts, while others emphasize programming or artistic creativity and produce computer-based software, sounds, or images. Regardless of the topic, all STEM Incubator courses share the following goals:
To engage students in a hands-on, collaborative experience in problem-solving involving some aspect of computer technology, enriched by a mentor/apprentice relationship among students at different levels of background and expertise.
To introduce students to computational problem-solving, moving from problem formulation to refinement to execution to troubleshooting, in an environment that encourages trial and error and minimizes the fear of failure.
Each course has specific learning objectives appropriate to the topic. These are given on the course syllabus.
Courses for the STEM Incubator Program include CSC 192 and 192h, one-hour pass/fail courses that connect underclassmen, upperclassmen (usually CS majors or students with technology and computer experience), and faculty members into small vertically integrated teams working on challenging problems and applications in computer-related technology. Students engage in peer-based learning through teamwork and collaboration, under the guidance of faculty mentors and student team leaders. The courses provide a maker setting in which students can experience the value of technology and computer before theoretical principles get in the way.
The typical student for these courses might be:
- CSC 192 — underclassmen (undeclared freshman and sophomores called “apprentices”) with no experience in programming or in the application area of the particular course section who are seeking hands-on exploration of technology, teamwork, and open-ended design.
- CSC 192h — upperclassmen with CS or other appropriate background and are interested in contributing their knowledge and expertise and willing to lead a team in the challenges undertaken in the course.
As a one-hour pass/fail course, CSC 192 and 192h require about 3 hours per week. One hour is regularly-scheduled time supervised by the faculty mentor with an additional 2 hours of team work each week for teams to collaborate on their projects. Some sections choose to meet for a 3 hour block each week.