Amazon mentors PVAMU computer science seniors during special capstone design course

Amazon mentors PVAMU computer science seniors during special capstone design course

PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas (Jan. 20, 2023) – Three groups of mostly departing seniors in 2022 were the inaugural winners of prize money given by Amazon in a unique capstone design competition in Prairie View A&M University’s Department of Computer Science within the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering.

Amazon mentors PVAMU computer science seniors during special capstone design courseSelected from nine competing teams, the three winning teams were PantherGo (1st place; Zoranay Coursey, Chancei White, Victor Fagbolu and Kedar Brooks), PantherHub (2nd place; Alfred Holland, Saivion Hayes, Jeremy Daniels, Rhahim Vital and Liana Harris), and CODE:AI (3rd place; Tyus Dedner, Kieria Tribble, Kaylin Flakes, Joshua Carter and Tre’ Boyd).

Members of PantherGo, the overall winners, received $2,000 each from Amazon; PantherHub’s members received $1,500 apiece; and CODE:AI’s members received $1,000 each.

“The top three groups’ projects embody the Amazon Leadership Principles of Customer Obsession, Think Big, Invent & Simplify, and Deliver Results. Congratulations to the winners – their vision, hard work, and execution inspired us all!” Amazon said in a statement.

Lei Huang, Ph.D., associate professor in the department and instructor of the senior design course, said cash awards to 14 students, while an extraordinary aspect of the competition, wasn’t even the most notable.

“I really credit the company for being so generous to our students, not just by providing cash awards but their time, too, to work with our students,” said Huang. “They established regular virtual office hours every week during the academic year and provided different engineers for students to talk to depending on their questions. I thought that was really cool.”

Students in the capstone design course spend most of the first semester in the design phase of their projects, continuing with research, documentation, implementation and then coding as they seek to develop useful and impressive computer applications by year’s end. “The point is to build a real project using computer science they’ve learned over the past three years and put it together to make a real product or prototype,” Huang said.

Both Huang and Department Head Yonggao Yang, Ph.D., were grateful to be approached by Amazon and spent some time in course development and discussion before signing off on the plan. “They had some suggestions to offer Amazon-specific ideas, and we had discussions about what we could do,” said Huang. “In fact, the only real concern we had was that we wanted to keep topics general and not specific to Amazon because Amazon is only one vendor.”

Huang noted that Amazon has a very large software design team and is considered a leader in cloud-based applications, along with other big industry names such as Google and Microsoft. All utilize sophisticated software, and all have distinct focuses and important differences. Having an opportunity to work with any of these vendors can’t help but give students a deeper understanding of algorithms and other computer science methods in use today.

Amazon software engineers capped the capstone course by attending the senior design teams’ final presentations and selecting the winning teams. “This was the first time for us, and it was all kind of interesting to see,” Huang said. “I think it was really good for our students to be so motivated, get their engineers’ time, have some real industry experience, and for many of them, get a cash prize. I’m so happy that this company jumped in to help us.”

By Andrew Cohen


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