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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Tic Toc Tech: a year of learning

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It is said that time is one of the best teachers, and the last year did not fail to teach some of the hardest lessons of life. It is a year that started with grief, loss, pain and disappointments that challenged us to be strong, resilient, kind and hopeful. We truly appreciated the importance of casual human interactions and people that make our universe. We had to rebound and adapt to the change.  

My last couple of in-person events of 2020 were TechPoint Foundation for Youth’s (TPF4Y) State VEX Robotics competition with 10,000 people in Lucas Oil Stadium, followed by a trip to Indiana University-Bloomington campus to meet students. Exactly after one year, trying to do the same routines but a bit differently. I judged for the VEX Robotics competition online and spoke to IUPUI LiFT Academy students via video conference.  

In 2021 despite the pandemic challenges, 245 teams across the state competed for an opportunity to advance to the VEX Robotics World Championship. We did not meet at Lucas Oil Stadium, but in our own homes. These students quickly adapted to the new format and presented their robot driving and programming skills on the digital platform. Ninety teams advanced to World Championship. I was amazed by these students’ tenacity to build robots as teams virtually but not compromise their project’s quality. TPF4Y gives Indiana students access to experiential learning opportunities that increase STEM knowledge and inspire STEM career exploration by providing training to teachers, grants to school and engaging students in various programs. TPF4Y offers financial support and necessary training for robotics teams.  

Speaking to the LiFT Scholars cohort took me back to my college days as an aspiring engineer, and I could reflect on the questions “what would I tell my 20-year-old self?” If I had a time machine to go back in time, what would I change, and how did my struggles and failures shape me into who I am today? As if I could see my younger self in them, and I could absolutely relate to their challenges and anxiety for the future. They are some of the best and brightest students I have ever met. If you are looking for an intern or an employee, please reach out to the LiFT academy.   

Pandemic has added complexity for these working students to achieve their career goals. It is challenging for them to get in-person mentoring, network with other professionals, get an on-site internship or attend career fairs. There are many opportunities created for them to get the most of those experiences virtually but it is just not the same. One of the very commonly asked question is unique them as many of them are pivoting their careers, and it is overwhelming for them to specialize in specific software or technology that can get them a job after graduation.  

The LiFT Scholars program is a multi-institutional collaborative initiative between IUPUI School of Informatics and Computing and Ivy Tech Community College, funded by the National Science Foundation. The goal is to diversify the STEM field by increasing the quality and quantity of IT professionals. LiFT seeks to reduce barriers for students from low-income communities interested in obtaining a degree in the informatics and information technology field. The program provides scholarships to over 130 students from IUPUI and Ivy Tech and utilizes high-impact practices to support students throughout their academic journey. The LiFT program seeks to retain and graduate students by promoting a sense of belonging on campus and increasing self-efficacy. Scholars are in academic cohorts, receive peer mentor support and have ongoing opportunities for career exploration. Also, LiFT scholars are required to complete a certification training program and an internship or research option by the time they graduate.   

Rupal Thanawala is managing director at Trident Systems, a leading business and technology consulting practice, and tech editor for Indianapolis Recorder. Contact her at rupalt@indyrecorder.com. 

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