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NYU SPARC - Our Honest Review

If you want to pursue a major in engineering in college but aren’t sure of the stream, then consider robotics. It draws from many different streams like mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science, physics, and mathematics to design, build, and operate robots, and combine your technical and creative ability to develop products and next-gen solutions in transport, healthcare, telecommunications, and other fields.


A pre-college summer program is a great way to introduce yourself to a subject and gain a deeper understanding of college-level coursework. Not to mention, it shows demonstrated interest in a subject on your college application.


If you’re interested in STEM, especially robotics and engineering, you should check out New York University’s Summer Program in Automation, Robotics, and Coding (SPARC).


What is SPARC all about?

SPARC is a non-credit, two-week robotics summer school for rising grades 9 through 12 students offered by NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. Dr. Vikram Kapadia, a faculty member of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, teaches the program. His research interests include K-12 STEM education, mechatronics, and spacecraft control, among other topics.


NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering has a pretty solid reputation, ranking #37 in the U.S. for engineering. The SPARC program does not require prior robotics experience but accepts students with a good academic record and who show initiative.


What can I study at SPARC?

During the program, you can learn a mix of basic and high-level robotics:

  • Basic electrical components, circuits, and circuit configurations.

  • Microcontroller anatomy, features, and programming

  • Coding key constructs like variables, conditionals, loops, and data representations.

  • How to interface electronic components with a microcontroller

  • How to perform serial and parallel communication

  • How to add sensors and actuators (devices that help machines move) to a robot model, and

  • How to understand and interpret data from sensors and control actuators


By the end of the course, you will design and build two fully functional robots and test them in a “mobile manipulator challenge.”


How much does the program cost?

The program costs $2,600. There is an additional $225 fee for materials, a $50 application fee, and a $100 fee for events organized during the program. It’s important to note that SPARC is in-person and NYU does not cover food and housing. No financial aid is available for the program.


Note: NYU offers accommodations ranging from $2,310 to $4,018 for two weeks, and meal plans that cost between $1,141 and $1,435 for the same period. You can make your own arrangements for food and housing. International students will have to pay additional visa and health insurance fees, if applicable.


Is the program prestigious?

The program is not selective and has limited prestige. SPARC admissions ask that you have a good academic background but do not have a minimum GPA requirement, nor do you require any prior robotics or engineering experience. There are multiple cohorts, so selectivity is likely to be low. The program costs $2,600 and financial aid is not available.


A comparable, more prestigious program would be NYU’s ARISE. If you have a strong profile and are beyond the ‘introductory’ level in engineering and sciences, you should definitely take your chance with ARISE. It is free and also offers robotics-based projects!


When is the application deadline?

Applications for the 2024 cohort open on January 1, 2024. Applications shut on May 1 or earlier, if all seats are filled. The program will have three sessions:

  • Session 1: June 17 - June 28

  • Session 2: July 8 - July 19

  • Session 3: July 29 - August 9


Who is eligible for the program?

SPARC is open to all rising grade 9 through 12 high school students. International students are welcome to apply, and NYU sponsors visas. There is no minimum GPA requirement, though NYU says competitive applications have a GPA of 3.0 and higher.


What are the pros and cons of applying for the program?

Pros:

  1. You will learn to problem-solve and think critically SPARC is based on Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards and the Tandon School of Engineering places special focus on problem-solving, inquiry-based, and iterative pedagogy in its K-12 STEM programs to prepare high school students for college.

  2. You get an introduction to basic and advanced robotics While you learn about basic robotics theory, SPARC emphasizes that all coursework has a real-world connection. Hence, the curriculum is closely related to research projects undertaken by faculty members so students can see theory in action.

  3. You build your own robot and can use this experience for future competitions and projects During the two weeks, you will design and build two fully functional robots, and demonstrate how they operate at an end-of-course event.

  4. You can choose which session(s) you’d like to attend SPARC has three summer sessions for 2024, running from June to August. Depending on your schedule, you can choose the session that suits you best, allowing you to participate in other summer activities/programs that you may be interested in.

  5. The program is accessible to international students Unlike many other U.S. summer programs, NYU accepts international applicants and sponsors their visas, ensuring that geographical location is less of a barrier to attending the program.

  6. The program features a very diverse cohort, and has an inclusive eligibility criteria The Tandon School of Engineering, through its summer programs for K-12 students, encourages applications from underrepresented communities, believing that the STEM of the future should be for everyone.


Cons:

  1. SPARC isn’t very prestigious SPARC is not selective and there is limited prestige associated with it. It has three cohorts and hence acceptance rates are higher. NYU does not offer any financial aid, nor is the Tandon School of Engineering very highly ranked in the U.S. (#37).

  2. You do not receive a college credit If you’re an ambitious high school student who wants to study STEM further, you could consider alternate summer courses that offer college credits and help jumpstart your college life.

  3. No financial aid is offered While SPARC is fairly priced (at $2,600) compared to other summer programs, NYU does not offer any financial aid, which could limit the number of promising students who apply. Additionally, housing is not covered in the program fees, which can be expensive in New York City.


Our Review of NYU SPARC

If you’re curious about robotics and its influence on your everyday life and want an introduction to college-level coursework, then you should consider applying to SPARC. The program introduces you to basic and high-level robotics, you have the opportunity to build your own robot, which will add value to your college portfolio, and NYU accepts international students and sponsors their visas.


On the other hand, if you’re an ambitious student looking to graduate from one of the U.S.’ top universities, then you should apply for more competitive programs. SPARC’s prestige is limited and it isn’t a selective program. There’s no financial aid available and you have to pay extra for accommodation, which can be expensive.


If you are looking to learn and build your own research project in robotics, we’d also recommend you check out Veritas AI!


Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in STEM, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, over 4000 students applied for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.

Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.


Image Source: NYU logo

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