We propose the creation of a club designed to stimulate interest in extracurricular activities in math, science, and other related technical activities. We advocate a project-oriented format in which students will work in teams (typically three to four people) on projects of mutual interest. There will be few restrictions on the scope of the projects. We will encourage cross-disciplinary endeavors such as explorations in the physical sciences, art and literature through desktop publishing and multimedia presentations. The common bond amongst these activities will be some form of computer-related work (programming, desktop publishing, graphic design), and public exchange of information via the web (web sites, archives, applets). See proposed schedule for some suggested activities in the first year of the club.

Participation in the club should focus on seventh and eighth graders in the first year, and build out from there depending on interest. This is consistent with our goal of stimulating interest in science at an early stage so that their subsequent high school education will maintain a proper balance between science and liberal arts. Students will be expected to have some access to computing at home to reinforce what is learned during the club meetings. Regular use of email, web sites, and other resources, will be encouraged.

It is important to understand that the vision for this club is a group of highly self-motivated students working on projects that they define and execute. In an effort to keep things moving forward, we will need to define some long-term goals in the form of public display of their work. The club advisor will mainly act in an advisory capacity to ensure the students have the proper resources. There will be little formal instruction, and most instruction will involve small teams of students in one-on-one settings. Club meetings will be casual. Students will need to be mature (and self-motivated) enough to make productive use of this time with minimal supervision.

In the first year or so, the focus will have to be basic computing skills and establishment of club infrastructure, such as computer accounts, web sites, computational resources, etc. The long-term goal of the club, however, should be to engage in significant science and technology-related challenges. At the same time, there will undoubtedly be interest in improving the school newsletter, developing more live on-line resources related to social activities, and even augmenting the school's web pages. It is important we do not discourage such liberal arts-minded students from participating in this club, since at this age they are assuredly not clear about their long-term interests. Hence, we have attempted to cast this club in a broader light. Nevertheless, in subsequent years, we would prefer to see more of a focus in using computer technology to learn about the physical sciences.

Specific ideas that would make good first-year activities would include: I am sure the students will quickly come up with a much more interesting set of projects. Most of the things described above are fairly trivial to do with the proper infrastructure.

One of the reasons this initiative is important is that computing as we know it is about to undergo a fundamental paradigm shift to wireless devices. At Mississippi State, our entering freshman engineers are now required to purchase laptops. We have a wireless network in and around the building that lets them stay connected anywhere in the building. Smart palmtop computers and cellphones (with cameras) are about to revolutionize the degree to which students stay connected to the network. We need to start moving in a direction that will allow students to put such technology to good use in the classroom. More and more resources that they access will be directly on the (wireless) network. The Young Explorers Club can be a valuable organization that contributes to this evolution, and gains a fair amount of state-wide and nationwide publicity for the school in the process.

We should not let a lack of resources temper what we might be able to accomplish with this initiative. Most schools seem to be able to easily raise money for such leading-edge technology-oriented programs. The current computer lab and high school curriculum already provide many of the resources required to accomplish the above tasks. We can certainly get started without any new investment (except for those club T-shirts and hats of course!). What we lack in resources we can easily acquire with a minimum of investment once we have a better idea of where the initiative is headed, and what is the level of interest.

Finally, my interest in taking on this project is that I have 5th and 7th grade daughters that I would like to see exposed to more technology. Like most kids, they would rather do this jointly with their friends than taking instruction from "Dad." If you want to know more about my background, you can view my resume, read about my research lab, or view some of the courses I teach. I have had experience teaching students at levels ranging from elementary school to graduate school. My research lab employs a large number of undergraduates, and has even employed some local Mississippi high school students from time to time. I can assure you that students who complete a few years of participation in the activities described above will be able to find employment opportunities on campus as upper-level high school students, and will significantly enhance their chances of being accepted to top colleges. Best regards,

Joe Picone
Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Mississippi State University