July 30, 2020 / By Xochitl Rojas-Rocha
The Qualcomm Institute (QI) Learning Academy opened with the dream of giving undergraduate students at UC San Diego a unique and innovative research opportunity. Now, nearly a year later, the program has graduated its second cohort and is looking to the future.
“The concept of the course is quite revolutionary,” said Nicole Suarez, a teaching assistant who worked with the Academy’s inaugural cohort. “Not only are students given the opportunity to participate in the groundbreaking research that is happening every day on UC San Diego’s campus, but they also receive training on how to be a researcher.”
The QI Learning Academy launched with almost 30 students. It is an ambitious initiative that trains students to apply their education to complex, real-world issues by pairing them with mentors in wireless systems, data science, engineering and other fields. Over two quarters, students participate in an online course and lead research projects addressing contemporary issues in autonomous vehicles, urban design, climate change and resource availability. The initiative is accredited through the university’s Academic Internship Program.
Leanne Chukoskie, a neuroscientist and assistant research scientist at QI, is one of several mentors with the QI Learning Academy. Behind the scenes, she and other facilitators help students find research topics that fit their interests, while carefully ensuring that team members represent different disciplines and strengths.
“I want the computer scientist to be able to talk to the economist and the urban studies major because the real world demands that,” said Chukoskie. “You have to be able to communicate and interact effectively with people who are trained very differently from you.”
While students are given a pre-established list of research topics to select, the specifics of their projects are left to them. One team from the inaugural cohort created an app to provide low-income neighborhoods with job listings and training in a central location online, while another used augmented reality to encourage students to interact with the UC San Diego campus.
A group mentored by Ramesh Rao, QI Director, delved into the effect that social media platforms’ rules and design have on the communities that grow around them. By paying particular attention to these subtle but powerful parts of the social media experience, students asked, could they create a new, goal-oriented platform or tweak existing ones to promote positive social change?
As the students and their research mentors worked through big questions, they forged relationships that can be difficult to find in the traditional lecture hall. Suarez and Chukoskie noticed that a sense of shared community had grown among the students, and between the teams and their mentors, on a large campus where students can struggle to find their in-group.
Suarez, a graduate student in the joint Math and Science Education program shared by UC San Diego and San Diego State University, said she was able to connect with students and support them through their internships. For graduating seniors, especially, that kind of relationship with a researcher can be incredibly valuable as students matriculate and apply for graduate programs and jobs.
The QI Learning Academy’s second cohort graduated with final presentations on June 4. The program runs through the fall/winter and winter/spring quarters. Interested applicants can apply here.
The QI Learning Academy is an extension of the larger QI community and its educational initiative QI Enrich. At QI, researchers from different fields collaborate to create technological innovations for the arts and culture, environmental science, health and energy. QI Enrich offers faculty, researchers, industry professionals and students the chance to receive training from experts on UC San Diego campus. Participants can learn how to work with big data, market through Amazon Web Services and solve issues in machine and deep learning. The initiative also offers training in big data for high school students through its Big Data Summer Camp, now online.