She.Codes computer science club president Kristiana Rendón was recently featured in an article by NASA for successfully leading PCC’s “Swarmathon” team in difficult programming competitions at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this year.
The first annual national “Swarmathon” competition held by NASA occurred from April 18-22, but Public Affairs writer Bob Granath featured Rendón after she attended the competition and NASA’s “Launching to Learn” program later in the summer.
According to NASA’s website, students gathered in Florida from 24 colleges and universities across the United States in order to compete in software development for “Swarmie” robots, small robots that could later be used to find resources on other planets. The students’ main objective was to develop search algorithms for the robots that could potentially revolutionize technology for future NASA endeavors.
The competition was divided into two categories: a physical competition, which focused on using algorithms with actual hardware, and a simulated competition, which was online-based and tested in a simulated environment.
“PCC competed in the physical competition category,” Rendón said in an email. “This competition included the physical competition, the technical report, and the outreach report. PCC won first place for our outreach report.”
Each team was loaned three Swarmie robot kits, instructional documents, and various training materials that would help them prepare for the software algorithm they had to turn in prior to the competition. Students would turn in their code to the Space Center and there the organizers would test their code, determining the winners by how many resources their robots could find in a specific time frame.
Rendón expressed some tribulations the team had when competing in the physical competition, since it was the first time they were using ROS, or robot operating systems, to develop software.
“The software development team had a few months to learn how to use ROS and write efficient code for it, all while keeping on top of their studies in school,” Rendón said. “There was a high learning curve, but we are using this semester to learn from our previous experiences and improve our knowledge of ROS and algorithms.”
Despite the challenges the team faced, Rendón led the team with passion and courage, which is why she caught the eyes of many at the Kennedy Space Center.
Granath notes in the article featuring Rendón that MSP Project Manager Theresa Martinez was impressed to see her return to participate in the “Launching to Learn” program and other internships held at the space center in Florida.
“That kind of drive, along with her outgoing and warm personality makes her a standout student. I look forward to seeing her accomplishments as she continues her education,” Martinez said in the article.
Rendón intends to utilize the knowledge and inspiration gained from the NASA internships, competitions, many “awesome” tours of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, astronaut encounters, two rocket launches, and a trip to the astronaut beach house to further promote her and She.Codes objective, which is to encourage more women to enter and stay in the computer science and other STEM fields.
She and the PCC team also had an opportunity to speak to younger students about their rewarding experiences in order to motivate them to take on careers in computer science.
“My time at the Kennedy Space Center exposed me to some of the amazing STEM fields that are available to students to seek out, for women to seek out and make a difference in,” Rendón said. “I was very comfortable speaking with younger students because I wanted to share my experiences I have gained to let them see how rewarding a path in STEM can be.”
For now, Rendón intends to keep up with her studies, learn how to create projects independently on an Arduino, and plan events held by She.Codes, which includes a conference of five women in the computer science field who will speak of their experiences in the field and the journeys they took to get there.
She is excited for various coding competitions held by the PCC Computer Science club and the second annual NASA “Swarmathon” competition, which will be held next year from April 18-20.