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UCF Computer Science Reboots Junior Knights High School Outreach Program

High school students with an interest in computer science are invited to attend free introductory classes with UCF faculty and volunteers
By: Bel Huston | February 6, 2024

A popular high school outreach initiative for computer science students has returned after a four-year hiatus.

The Junior Knights program, hosted by the UCF Department of Computer Science, offers complimentary classes in Python and competitive programming, as well as an AP Computer Science A review course. The program had a nine-year run from 2011 to 2020, hosted by UCF computer science faculty Niels Lobo and Arup Guha, before it was shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative was jump-started with a donation from Northrop Grumman, facilitated by UCF computer science distinguished alumnus Steve Leonard ’04, NG Fellow and chief engineer for Northrop Grumman.

Junior Knights is run by Guha along with faculty members Karin Markle and Kyle Dencker, with assistance from UCF student volunteers. Classes started on Jan. 20 and are held on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. until April 27 in the L3Harris Engineering Center.

Each session offers a 30- to 40-minute structured lectures throughout the three-hour class, followed by exercises and one-on-one time with UCF student volunteers. The college students cater to different skill levels, answer questions and follow up with attendees who may have missed sessions.

Guha says the program gives high school students the chance to see if computer science is a field they may want to pursue further, offering the opportunity for students to be exposed to the discipline at a low-stakes level without the commitment of a one-year high school course.

“In high school, kids are learning a lot about the world, and they haven’t really made up their mind about what they want to do necessarily,” he says. “But I want to be able to introduce enough of the discipline so that students can make up their mind.”

He adds that the program also introduces students to UCF overall, who may not have ever visited the campus or had any other experiences with the university.

“A lot of these students actually end up coming here. And oftentimes they really do quite well in computer science,” Guha says. “We’ve had many students, be it through the summer camps or Junior Knights or both, end up coming to UCF.”

That was the case for UCF computer science major Jordan Muniz, who attended the program years ago and chose to attend UCF to become involved with the programming team. Eventually, he competed on the junior varsity programming team and served as a volunteer for the UCF high school programming tournament. He said the extraordinary experiences helped him land an internship with Google.

“Junior Knights was a really great experience as a rising programmer in high school. Whether it was for competitive programming, or for learning more about computer science topics, it was an easy way to get ahead of the competition,” says Muniz. “The class size was also smaller, so it was easier to get more personalized help.”

Guha adds that many of the program volunteers went on to become teaching assistants at UCF.

“They learn a little bit about how difficult it is to learn, and they get excited when the high school students figure things out,” Guha says. “Then they realize that they enjoy doing this and they want to also help out at the collegiate level as a TA.”

Overall, Guha says the program serves as a fantastic opportunity for high school students to hone their skills, spark a love of teaching for college volunteers and serve as an opportunity for UCF students to share a passion for computer science.

“I think it’s important for UCF of be a part of the community, and to help out and provide that pipeline.”