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Dr. Ashley Podhradsky, Dr. Pam Rowland and graduate student Stephanie Plucker

Role models important for cyber learners

Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences

The importance of a positive professional role model is something Dr. Ashley Podhradsky knows firsthand.

The Dakota State University associate professor in the Beacom College of Computing and Cyber Sciences said Marda Olson, the former Flandreau Public School’s technology coordinator, was very formative in her career development.

“If she hadn’t taken the opportunity to show me what this field has to offer when I was growing up, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today. It’s hard to be something you can’t see,” Podhradsky said.

Podhradsky had a chance to pay it forward and be a role model to school children herself when her high school classmate Kylie Knudson invited her to bring a technology demonstration to about 180 second and third grade students at Harrisburg’s Endeavor Elementary.

“We hope to inspire the learners to think about careers in technology, because technology is the way we are moving,” said Knudson, a third-grade teacher at Endeavor.

“Realistically, we can’t teach them to be fluent in programming in one day, or teach them cryptography in an afternoon, but we can get them excited about technology so they want to learn more,” Podhradsky said. 

She, along with DSU assistant professor Dr. Pam Rowland and graduate student Stephanie Plucker, brought a variety of robots to the school on Sept. 29. The set-up was a fair-like atmosphere with different stations featuring Dash, Spheros and CodyBots. Each of the five, one-hour sessions began with a quick demonstration of what the robots could do, and then “it was the students playing for an hour,” Podhradsky said.

“This was a great way for the students to get the opportunity to experience the coding world hands-on,” said Endeavor’s technology integrationist Brian Plahn.

Divided into pairs, the students programmed their robots to move, dance, roar or play back sounds the students recorded. At the end of each session, they grouped their robots together for a “light show” with programmed moves and flashing lights.

“This was really fun,” said Gideon, a second grader at Endeavor. “I got the robot to do a lot of things I thought I couldn’t get it to do.”

The collaborative work taught the students another technology lesson, that “this industry is not an independent environment, but a collaborative, creative discipline,” Podhradsky said.

“People have too many misconceptions that technology work is done alone in a cubicle. Nothing could be further from the truth,” she stated. “You hardly do anything on your own.”

The joint effort between Dakota State and Harrisburg is an example of that collaboration.   

“Harrisburg does a great job introducing and encouraging technology with our students,” said Endeavor principal Mike Munzke, “but bringing this group in enhances our overall commitment to provide technology to the students.”

Knudson agreed: “It’s nice to pull in outside resources so that we can keep our learners learning.”

And true to the desired goal, some of the students were inspired to learn more about technology outside of the classroom. Second grader Geeta said “This was really fun! I’m going to ask my mom if we can get a robot.”