The University of Florida’s Engaging Quality Instruction through Professional Development (EQuIPD) grant has teamed up with Duke Energy – North Central Florida to bring back an exciting opportunity for high school students in local school districts.
The Powering the Community: Artificial Intelligence Design Contest has returned for its third installment! Nancy Ruzycki, Ph.D., instructional associate professor in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering and principal investigator on EQuIPD, and Krista Dulany Chisholm, Ph.D., EQuIPD program research assistant scientist, created and launched the program in Spring 2022 as a student introduction to design thinking practices that support artificial intelligence (AI) design.
The four-week contest lets students learn about computer programming, design thinking, and integrating math, science, and engineering into the answers to real-world problems related to the energy sector.
This year’s contest focuses on the need for smart grids and microgrids to help mitigate the loss of power to communities during storms. They will be tasked to employ their newly acquired design thinking skills and work as a team to reimagine local power distribution.
“We’re preparing them with the workforce skills of the future,” Dr. Ruzycki said. “We also hone their collaboration and communication skills and teach them about ethics for AI applications. As the premier Land Grant Institution, UF has a mission to support the students in our state.”
The contest culminates in a final presentation day where the teams showcase their designs to a panel of UF and industry judges. Along the way, students are introduced to Python programming and also gaining a solid foundation in constructing AI systems. Team members will also meet up with UF engineering students, take part in unique campus tours, and learn from Duke Energy guest speakers to learn first-hand about the energy and power sectors.
“The heart of this whole program is its mentorship component, made possible by the dedicated UF students who guide and inspire these high school teams as they participate in the contest,” Dr. Chisholm said. “UF MSE graduate student Summer Hane leads the program’s mentorship component, and her role is to ensure the program’s success by updating contest activities, training other mentors, and managing communications across the program. It’s our mentors who make this work.”
The Powering the Community: AI Design Contest began in 2022 with a partnership between the EQuIPD grant, Orange County Public Schools, and Duke Energy – Orange County. Over the first two years, 16 high school student teams from Orange County Public Schools participated.
Earlier this year, high school students from Alachua, Marion, Lake, Sumter, Wakulla, Hernando, Citrus, and Suwannee counties were invited to form teams of four students plus a sponsoring teacher. In a testament to its growing popularity, 20 teams of nearly 100 students from eight schools registered for the Fall 2023 event. This recent contest was supported by a sponsorship from Duke Energy Foundation North Central Florida.
“We’re thrilled to see this program expanding across Florida and introducing more students to the world of artificial intelligence and the energy sector,” Dr. Chisholm said. “The future of innovation is in their hands, and it’s looking brighter than ever.”
Teams presented their various power grid designs both in-person and virtually. These presentations were developed with the help of UF student mentors and judged by 3 representatives from the sponsor, Duke Energy. Fellow students had the opportunity to ask questions and learn from others’ perspectives on the assignment while listening to talks from keynote speaker Dr. Ted Kury from UF’s Warrington College of Business and program director Dr. Nancy Ruzycki.
The winners of this year’s contest were the “Rad Rattlers” from Belleview High School. The team consisted of four students—Amya Hernandez, Rowyn Picard, Briana Stephens, and Zach Santos (not pictured)—and their teacher, Dale Toney. Second place was awarded to virtual competitors from Forest High School, the “Illumicats,” and West Port High School’s “Light Up Florida” won third place.
In addition to this fall AI contest for high school students, Dr. Ruzycki and her team are developing a middle school AI contest for energy consumption and AI Smart Meters. This contest will debut in spring 2024.