Five students focus on the future through a computer science independent study

Liam%2C+Ben%2C+Vinod%2C+David%2C+and+Tananya+spend+their+fourth+hours+in+Mr.+Smiths+room+working+on+their+separate+computer+science+projects.

Avery Jordan

Liam, Ben, Vinod, David, and Tananya spend their fourth hours in Mr. Smith’s room working on their separate computer science projects.

By Natalie Mix, Forest Hills Central High School

Senior Ben Taylor is technically a professional coder. 

In the time he spends lifeguarding at the YMCA, his least favorite activity is the excessive paperwork that surrounds group lessons, so he wrote a computer program to solve the issue, and the YMCA paid him for it. 

“I got really tired of doing [paperwork],” Ben said. “I thought, ‘You know, this is stupid. It’s just copying down names. What if I wrote a program [where] you just enter the names, and then it pulls up a PDF, and you can just hit print, and it prints it all out for you?’ So that’s what I worked on. It was pretty simple. I completed it, and then I was able to sell it to the [YMCA]. My boss just paid me the other day, which is so cool because I can technically say I’m a professional coder.”

Completing this project required a certain technological prowess from Ben. Fortunately, alongside four other seniors—Vinod Rajakrishna, Tananya Prankprakma, David Wasilewski, and Liam Sweetman—Ben is engaged in a computer science independent study, under the guidance of math and computer science teacher Mr. Joe Smith.

This program was his first project for the independent study. While the five of them entered into this experience with the intention of working on a video game together, they’ve all branched off in their own directions, each embarking on projects that cater to their own talents and interests. 

Having moved onto his second project, Ben is currently involved in the process of building a robot that can detect a person, follow them, and subsequently aim a projectile at them. This particular creation was inspired by a video game that Ben, Vinod, and Liam hold an affinity for, so they’re all eagerly invested in the outcome. 

While Ben has poured his time and energy into passion projects, David has been on the hunt for teachers in the building who can take advantage of his skills. 

To start off, he’s working with Mr. Smith to simplify the mundane process of preparing his whiteboard at the beginning of each day. Using Raspberry Pi—a small, single-board computer—David is creating an operating system with modules for each category that Mr. Smith typically edits on his agenda, transitioning his whiteboard to a screen. 

“What’s on his board currently is just going to go on a TV,” David said, “and it’ll also do the weather and stuff. He [also] said he wants a window in his classroom; it’s not physically possible, so I might try to hook it up to a webcam.”

Once David has finished brightening Mr. Smith’s classroom atmosphere, his next endeavor will be working with Mr. Scholtens to establish a system that will allow him to remotely control certain elements within the greenhouse—like moisture, heat, and fans—a project that Vinod will likely join him on. 

“I appreciate the opportunity to work with teachers kind of on the same level,” David said. “Right now, I’m working on a project with Mr. Smith, and I’m going to start a project with Mr. Scholtens. There’s an aspect of working with them and solving problems that they have that’s fun.”

While David continues to hunt for teachers who have a use for his expertise, Liam has jumped between projects a bit, learning what areas of programming appeal to him the most. 

He’s spent time on topics ranging from live website design to character design to different programming languages. He even made a program that randomizes various physical traits to create a final surprise outcome. 

“I’ve been going on and off between [projects],” Liam said, “and I’m still thinking about a big one I want to focus on, but I’ve been getting my laptop set up for coding and stuff like that. I want to get into website design. All my friends know that I’m obsessed with crypto and NFTs and everything.”

As he traverses the different avenues of programming, Liam has developed an involved love of computer science. 

Not only is computer science a booming career field that Liam hopes to discover his home within, but it’s one that intrigues him—an optimal pairing that can nearly ensure Liam will meet some degree of career success and that he will find fulfillment within it. 

“I love it because, especially [with] coding and building, it’s like solving a big puzzle,” Liam said. “You make the puzzle as you go, and then you solve it. The satisfaction that you get from completing that and having something that you made and you designed out of your own mind—it’s beautiful.”

In this sense, Liam views computer science as an art, and Tananya empathizes with that artistic perspective. She possesses an appreciation for the patterns that she can observe in data collection and processing, and this admiration for beauty is reflected in her independent study project.

Tananya’s current venture is inspired by a variety of interactive exhibits and one specific video she found online of a girl with an interactive projection. In the description of the video, Tananya discovered that the girl had used an Xbox Kinect for the sensing component of her projection, and she was inspired by the ingenuity to repurpose common household objects into something fresh and inventive.

“I’ve always been super intrigued with interactive art exhibits and [exhibits] where they process the data from around the room and you can make things on the screen move and you’re like, ‘Whoa, how do they do that?'” Tananya said. “But with the Kinect, apparently it’s super accessible—and with TouchDesigner, which is a program that’s made specifically for designing interactions.”

With the tools at her disposal, such as Mr. Smith’s classroom projector, Tananya is in the midst of creating her own interactive projections, rounding out the array of diverse projects that she and her classmates are engaged in.

The freedom that the five of them have been granted to immerse themselves in the aspects of computer science they love most has benefitted all of them from an educational perspective. Because they each have a concentrated knowledge in a certain vein of computer science, all five of them have been able to bring something unique to the table, and they can subsequently learn from each other, establishing a strong basis of knowledge across the vast field of computer science.

“It’s not just what we bring to the table,” Ben said, “but as we go and research our own super specific projects, [we] can kind of report back to the group and be like, ‘Oh, this is sick.’ I’ve learned some stuff about Raspberry Pi just from David venturing down [that path], and it’s super cool.”

The hours that Ben, Vinod, Tananya, David, and Liam have spent on their passions, and the hours they will continue to devote throughout the year, are preparing them for the field they all aspire to occupy in the future. They all value the opportunity to extract the ideas that float around in their heads and render them in reality, but they’re also investing in the future of technology with every hour that they spend unpacking the various aspects of computer science.

What they share, beyond a penchant for coding, programming, and making their abstract ideas into concrete realities, is a conviction that technology is the future, and they want to be key proponents of that future.

“Everything we do is so automated now and everything is so computer-based,” Vinod said. “Even something as simple as our phones have so much intricacy to [them]. So I think computer science is a really hot field to go into right now because the future is very soon.”

This story was originally published on The Central Trend on November 1, 2021.