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Feature: Goal-oriented

Robo-soccer coach, teacher and fundraiser, this Spelman College computer science professor aims high. Can he inspire a black, female Bill Gates? —An  article from ASEE’s April 2008 Prism magazine by David Zax.

ANDREW WILLIAMS

ATLANTA — Like many engineering educators, Andrew Williams is good at connecting seemingly disparate elements. Today, he’s working to solve two different puzzles simultaneously: how to attract more minorities and women to the field of engineering, and how to build an unbeatable robotic soccer team.

Williams, an artificial intelligence and bioinformatics expert, surprised many who knew him by leaving the University of Iowa, a research powerhouse, in 2004 to join much smaller Spelman College as an associate professor in the computer and information sciences department. Inspired by Rick Warre’s book The Purpose Driven Life, he felt it was his “God-given purpose” to help uplift the African-American community. Atlanta’s renowned historically black women’s college seemed a more promising venue than Iowa, where he had supervised just two black students in five years.

Arriving at Spelman with several Sony AIBO robot dogs in tow and grant money from Coca-Cola and NASA, Williams lured undergraduates to the challenge and fun of engineering with SpelBots, a robotic soccer team that he also hopes will advance research.

The SpelBots team set its sights on the international RoboCup, an annual robotics soccer event. “Most people would not even think to have freshmen program for the passing event at RoboCup,” Williams says, but “I don’t place limits on the students.”

SpelBots 2006-7
SpelBots 2006-7

Read the entire article in Prism online

Since this article was first published, SpelBots competed in the championship match of the RoboCup Japan Open 2009 Osaka Standard Platform League Nao Humanoid robot soccer competition. The team tied. See a video recap. More videos and additional information are at artsialliance.org

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