CSE Ambassadors Receive New Grant to Give Back

Nov 23, 2016      By Victoria Grdina

CSE Ambassadors president Colton Harper accepting the grant from Dr. Juan Franco.
CSE Ambassadors president Colton Harper accepting the grant from Dr. Juan Franco.

The CSE Ambassadors are all about giving back. A newly awarded grant will help them give back in a big way. 

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Center for Civic Engagement recently awarded the CSE Ambassadors the Give Back Big grant for $1,000. Department Chair Dr. Matthew Dwyer also agreed to match this grant on behalf of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.  

The CSE Ambassadors formed last year and became an official student group this fall. The group’s primary initiative is to use computing skills to give back to the community. The new funding will allow them to get active in Lincoln projects, schools and organizations.

“With the growing number of students that we’re getting, there’s a place for students to get involved,” said Ann Koopmann, CSE Ambassadors and academic advisor. “This is a wonderful draw for students, plus it helps them connect with each other and network with others.”

Computer science student and CSE Ambassadors president Colton Harper is one of the group’s founding members, who said he’s encountered many students who are interested in joining and beginning new projects, but don’t know how or where to start. He saw an opportunity to provide those students with learning experiences while also helping others. 

“I’ve seen that there are great opportunities to—rather than doing labor for service—use your professional skills for service,” Harper said. “I saw CSE Ambassadors as a way that we could serve other people, make the community better, and help ourselves as well by using our professional skills.”

One of the main projects the CSE Ambassadors will use its new funding for will be forming a robotics club at Culler Middle School. The CSE Ambassadors will designate two days a week to mentor students in an after-school program that will introduce them to robotics and computing. 

The CSE Ambassadors hope to eventually begin similar clubs at other Title 1 elementary, middle and high schools across Lincoln. A few other outreach activities in the works include holding hack-a-thons, hosting tech education seminars to answer questions and teach basic skills, and collaborating with the Nonprofit Hub to identify organizations in need. The Ambassadors will also be able to return the Center for Civic Engagement’s assistance by developing new scheduling software for VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. 

“Computer science is such a powerful skill, especially in today’s world, that we are ambassadors whether we’re in this organization or not,” Harper said. “I feel like as ambassadors, it’s kind of our duty. We need to give back to our community.” 

This attitude is what’s been most impressive to Koopmann. As an advisor, she recognizes the difficulty in balancing academics and activities and appreciates the students’ initiative and generosity.

“I think what’s awe-inspiring is that these are just young people who have taken a lead in saying, ‘We can do this,” Koopmann said. “And it’s important. At a time when sometimes we worry about the ‘me, me, me,’ they’re saying, ‘It’s beyond me. It’s bigger than me.’”

The CSE Ambassadors are always looking for more members and invite all students to join. Students interested in becoming CSE Ambassadors should contact Ann Koopmann at akoopmann1@unl.edu.