The Preuss Internship Program and TDLC

It’s that time of year again – time for students from The Preuss School to sign up for an internship with a TDLC lab! The Preuss School, jointly chartered by UC San Diego and the San Diego Unified School District, is a middle and high school dedicated to providing an intensive college preparatory education for motivated low-income students who will become the first in their families to graduate from college*. Part of this preparation includes the opportunity to participate in an internship program with a department on the UC San Diego campus.

TDLC has enthusiastically offered to participate in this program. Preuss seniors who are interested in TDLC-related topics spend around 13 weeks assigned to a TDLC lab**. The TDLC Translational, Diversity & Outreach Manager, helps to coordinate student placement with Kelly Kovacic, the Preuss Senior Internship Advisor.

Gary Cottrell, the first TDLC investigator to host a Preuss intern in his lab in 2005, provided an opportunity for his student to study neural networks. Other TDLC investigators have eagerly followed, including Andrea Chiba, Javier Movellan, and Gedeon Deak.

Jake Whitehill
Jake Whitehill

Fadhi Ali, a former Preuss student now attending Northwestern University, participated in the internship program in Javier Movellan’s lab in 2008. He worked closely with Jake Whitehill, a graduate student in computer science and engineering at UC San Diego, and part of TDLC’s Social Interaction Network. Jake and Fadhi primarily focused on Automated Teaching. With classrooms packed with 35-40 students, individual attention can be a challenge. So Jake and Fadhi addressed the question: “How do we create automated systems, such as computers or social robots, that are responsive to the needs of students, so that the pace and direction of instruction is matched to individual student needs?”

The first step: To create video logs of real life interactions. Fadhi took part in this aspect of the study, helping to make a video log of a teacher instructing a student. One goal of maintaining this log is to be able to note the presence of non-verbal behaviors such as facial expressions and body movements, and to use this data to ultimately help develop automated systems.

Studies have shown many benefits of participating in internships. For example, students who participate in internships have a higher rate of graduating high school and gain a competitive edge in the college admissions process. They add valuable skills to their resume, and network with respected employers. In addition, interns like Fadhi also have a chance to gain important real-world skills, discover what job areas they are interested in, and identify their individual strengths and weaknesses.

Fadhi was not the only one to benefit from his internship with TDLC. “Our lab was able to gain important data from the recording of real human interactions that Fadhi and I completed,” Jake explains. “We can now take this data and attempt to approximate it in automated systems.” Also, Fadhi is part of the target population for automated teaching research, so Jake and his lab were able to gain important insight from their main target group.

Finally, Jake describes the gratification he received on a personal level, working with students: “Personally, I really enjoy teaching and tutoring, and I hope the students I work with feel the same way.”

* The Preuss School has been recognized by Newsweek as the top transformative high school in the nation for three years in a row. It has been ranked one of the top five charter high schools in California in a 2013 report by the University of Southern California and consistently ranked as one of America's best high schools by Newsweek, The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report, among others.

** Students are required to complete 30 hours at their internship site, complete weekly reflections, conduct a career interview with their supervisor and a write a final paper.