December 2019

Featured Article

Summer SunGods Help Welcome Students to UC San Diego


For students admitted to UC San Diego’s Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Program, long summer breaks are the perfect time for basking in the sun and also for building robot Sun Gods.

As part of a new outreach program meant to welcome prospective students and highlight UC San Diego’s and the Jacob School of Engineering’s unique attributes, ECE staff sent 50 randomly selected accepted transfer students a “Project in a Box” care package that contained stickers from various student organizations and a kit for building and decorating a miniature robot version of UC San Diego’s iconic Sun God statue. Students who received the kit were also invited to share their robots on Instagram for a chance to win a $100 gift card. It was hoped that the surprise package would be a fun way to engage students during their summer break and also encourage them to accept UC San Diego’s offer of admission.  With more than half of the transfer students who were sent packages not only completing and sharing their robot Sun Gods, but also officially enrolling at UC San Diego, the results were positive.

“This project was created to engage our prospective students during what is seemingly a long break,” said ECE Project Development and Outreach Coordinator Nicholas Stein. “We wanted to show we cared, but didn’t want to send out a traditional care package.”

The non-traditional approach gave students a glimpse of the types of learning experiences they could expect as ECE students. Project in a Box (PiB) is a student-led program created in 2016 that focuses on developing engineering projects to introduce learners to all levels of basic engineering and programming skills. Successful completion of the Sun God project involved basic concepts of electricity and analog and digital circuits, as well as how to use a breadboard, a fundamental tool for prototyping. All of these skills are learning objectives that are covered in the beginning ECE course Intro to Analog Design. PiB projects have been used to launch hands-on courses like ECE 196 as well as outreach efforts like workshops for high school students, middle school students and UC San Diego alumni and family. Kits are not commercially manufactured, but are individually curated by students and staff, allowing them to be tailored to the student body and giving them a personal touch. As a former member of PiB and current staff advisor, Stein replicated the style of past outreach projects for the Sun God care package.

“The kit focuses on three main things: laser cut parts for structure, electrical parts and hardware for function, and documentation for implementation” said Stein. “The core of the kit contains wood pieces for the body of the robot, which I cut myself in our very own ECE Makerspace.”

After the success of the initial mailing, the program was expanded, and more than 350 kits were sent to all incoming freshman students. Instagram posts of finished products show the creativity of students who painted their Sun Gods in a variety of ways, including one student who made their Sun God a replica of the Statue of Liberty.

“Students who participated in our Instagram challenge had a lot of fun with it,” said Stein.

According to Stein, the response to the outreach effort has been an overall positive one. The only complaints he has received is from a few current undergraduate students who were disappointed they did not receive a PiB care package when they were freshmen. ECE plans to make the PiB welcome package a regular outreach effort and will model future packages on other art pieces from the UC San Diego Stuart Collection.

“We welcome this way to introduce new students to the Stuart Collection,” said Mary L. Beebe, Director of the Stuart Collection. “It’s inventive and fun, like so many of the works in the collection. ” 

Any leftover PiB care packages will be made available at on-campus technical workshops, so that anyone who is interested can have a chance at building their own robo-piece of UC San Diego. People interested in learning more about the Stuart Collection are invited to visit their website at