SOE Engineer Magazine_Spring 2021



Last summer, many undergraduates found their internships cut because of COVID-19. The pandemic also affected elementary students with many in-person summer camps canceled. For a group of St. Thomas students from a variety of disciplines, the university’s Playful Learning Lab (PLL) was able to provide both a paying job and an opportunity to create a virtual summer program for more than 80 deaf and hard of hearing elementary- age children. A PLL project called the PLAYground supplied free weekly themed boxes of activities and materials to students from the Metro Deaf School and the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. PLL camp counselors (along with interpreters and staff from schools and community volunteers) hosted virtual check-ins on weekdays with the children to guide them through playful lessons on everything from nature and magic to science and engineering. Originally designed only for deaf students, the lessons were translated into multiple languages: American Sign Language, Arabic, Spanish, Somali and English.

When AnnMarie Thomas, founder and director of the PLL and professor in the School of Engineering and Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, realized many students had lost coveted internships due to the pandemic, she decided to add to the PLL’s workforce. “I originally thought I’d have 10 people working in the Playful Learning Lab [last] summer and instead had about 30 students on the payroll,” said Thomas, who noted funds from Cognizant and prize money from the LEGO Foundation helped to pay salaries. “Anyone who wanted an internship – I hired them all back and gave them all raises.”

ALUMNUS TERRENCE WHITE RECEIVES OUTSTANDING STUDENT RESEARCH AWARD Terrence White, a St. Thomas alumnus who received his master’s degree in data science in 2019, was awarded the Jay Liebowitz Outstanding Student Research Award at the 60th Annual International Association for Computer Information Systems (IACIS) Conference. White collaborated with Associate Professor of Graduate Programs in Software and Data Science and Director of Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence Manjeet Rege on the data science project “Sentiment Analysis on Google Cloud Platform.” The Jay Liebowitz Outstanding Student Research Award is an award that recognizes an outstanding student research paper submitted to the conference.

St. Thomas Engineer 2021 Page 23

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