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Madison area students complete AI Bootcamp

Photo by Omar Waheed.

A handful of high schoolers from greater Madison schools gathered at software company Fetch for the past four Saturdays to learn more about artificial intelligence and get a jump on potential future careers in tech.

Seven high school students from multiple high schools across the Madison area partook in the four-week Mark Cuban Foundation (MCF) AI Bootcamp between Oct. 14 through Nov. 4. Fetch, 1050 E. Washington Ave. Suite 200 hosted the students in conjunction with the MCF to mentor students on AI related topics. The bootcamp is a no-cost education program that aims to equip students with skills and a foundational understanding of AI as the tech continues to emerge.

Over the four weeks, students sat through a mix of Zoom sessions and hands-on activities in Fetch’s office to learn how to utilize AI.

“It’s pretty cool to me. It’s pretty cool to hear the opinions of younger folks and like they have such nuanced opinions,” Grant Forss, one of the mentors at the bootcamp, said. “We had ethical discussions today that I would say were just surprisingly really, really deep.”

The seven students grouped together to work on exercises related to a variety of AI topics. Students worked on projects like image description prompts, large language models and many others along with understanding ethical implications and bias that AI creates as the technology continues to develop. In the final week, students presented a capstone project using all the skills learned to send off to MCF.

The first group created a prototype to scan reviews on products to help retail companies figure out what products consumers want. Their prototype project analyzes consumer behavior online to figure out what items are best to keep in stores and list online.

The second group created a prototype for a service called “Wheeler” that scans food labels and determines what is safe for a user to eat based on dietary restrictions. The ideal implementation is for it to scan for keywords and bring them to the app to alert a user that a product contains things like dairy, meat, gluten or other items that do not line up with their diet.

After the presentations, students were given a surprise gift by Fetch at their graduation from the bootcamp. The seven students were all gifted MacBook Pros with software added by Fetch for them to continue working and learning tech on their own.

Photo by Omar Waheed.

“I think just coming in here I was super excited for the environment and how chill it is,” said student Jayda Braaksma. “And then I think the other biggest thing was the ceremony today and the laptops that we got, that was super surprising — I’m so grateful.”

Parents of the students, a few of whom currently work in tech, were excited to see their children make their way through the bootcamp and receive the graduation gift. The parents see AI as a future mainstay in the industry and their kids getting a jump on it through the bootcamp sets them up with a jump start in their careers.

“AI is gonna grow and it has been growing the last couple of years —obviously,” Muktak Sharma, father of one student, said. “These kids are growing too. I think it’s all going to be around them.”

Students saw the bootcamp to get an early start in their future careers in tech too. Bryan Manjaly, who goes to Sun Prairie West, has already taken a software engineering course in school, but found that it helped him know what to look for in the future as he continues his studies.

“It’s a really growing field and this is a good start to knowing what to learn in college opportunities, like college,” said Manjaly.

Fetch hopes that they can do something like this again in the future. The MCF AI Bootcamp cycles through cities looking for students in marginalized school districts. The bootcamp has been going for since 2019 and has previously been hosted in Dallas, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Atlantic City — and now Madison — so far.