New summer program teaches AI tech to Arlington high school seniors


Eighteen Arlington Public School seniors got an in-depth look into the world of artificial intelligence (AI) this summer thanks to George Mason University’s new AI Scholars program. The two-week session offered at Mason Square provided students with hands-on learning opportunities, projects, lectures, guest speakers, and $750 scholarships.

students working with tech
AI Scholars was open to all seniors in Arlington Public Schools. Photo by Sai Preeti Pantangi

The program, taught by Tolga Soyata, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Mason, was open to all seniors in Arlington Public Schools.

Mason faculty members Missy Cummings, director of Mason's Autonomy and Robotics Center (MARC), and Leigh McCue, chair of Mason’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, joined Erik Blasch, program officer at the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Les Laurell, a supervisor at Robins Air Force Base, in providing valuable real-world insights to the students.

In addition, students learned about various aspects of AI and gained practical experience, controlling liquid crystal displays with Python software, managing power-hungry hardware with Raspberry Pi, and receiving an introduction to programming with OpenCV.

The Department of Defense’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (CDAO), Trenchant Analytics, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) provided funding for the program. The AI Scholars program is part of the Trenchant Analytics STEMx project, supported by the CDAO, and aims to help students begin a STEM career by providing relevant kits, tutorials, and a skill tree that tracks progress toward a scholarship and internship. Kammy Sanghera, executive director of Mason’s Institute for Digital Innovation (IDIA), led the effort to establish the program and was the principal investigator on the grant.

“We are happy to support this program that brings more opportunities to seniors in our county,” said John Ferry, CEO of Trenchant Analytics. “It is important to us to encourage interest in fields like AI and educate students on the opportunities they have in STEM fields.”

AFOSR program manager Kim Jacob told the high school students about the different careers and opportunities available to undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs in the Air Force Research Laboratory. “It’s an honor to speak to students as they are finishing high school and make them aware of the opportunities they have in STEM-related fields as they are preparing for college and deciding on a potential career path,” she said.

students working with kits
Photo by Sai Preeti Pantangi

“We are excited to collaborate with organizations like Trenchant Analytics, George Mason University, CDAO, and the AFOSR,” Pamela Nagurka, partnership coordinator for work-based learning at Arlington Public Schools, said. “It is important to introduce students to these fields and show them the opportunities they have in college and beyond.”

Sanghera said Mason plans to expand the program next year. “We are very pleased with the first year of our AI Scholars grant and are looking forward to expanding the program to Fairfax County Public Schools and D.C. Public Schools next year,” Sanghera said. “The IDIA’s mission is to help connect our students, faculty, industry, and community, and this program is a prime example of how collaboration between these groups creates wonderful opportunities for students to learn and experience STEM fields.”