Demo Day, Experiential Learning Expo Reaches New Heights


The Spring 2023 Experiential Learning Expo (ELE) was designed with a specific mission in mind: to create an interactive, end-of-semester showcase of student work, to partner with Boston University and industry experts as mentors, and to host the semi-annual event in a dynamic, state-of-the-art location. Check. Check. Check.

Presented by Boston University’s Undergraduate Affairs, the student showcase welcomed nearly 100 student teams from BU Spark!, BU Hub’s Cross-College Challenge (XCC), and the Learning Assistant Program to the May 5 event with more than 300 BU supporters — students, faculty, project sponsors, mentors, and staff, in attendance.

“​​The event was wildly successful,” said Amie Grills, associate provost of BU Undergraduate Affairs. “Experiential learning continues to grow as a hallmark of a Boston University education, and the inaugural Experiential Learning Expo provided an opportunity to combine our end-of-year events under one umbrella to showcase the impact it has on student learning, through hundreds of exceptional and varied student projects.”

Located in BU's new Center for Computing & Data Sciences (CCDS) building, the Friday evening showcase comfortably consumed the first and second floors with the waterfall staircase serving as a connector. Digital signs illuminated the spaces with a consistent stream of conversation as students presented their semester-long projects. Azer Bestavros, associate provost of BU Computing & Data Sciences, was thrilled with the turnout and said CCDS was the perfect location to celebrate student-driven innovation.

“The Center for Computing & Data Sciences embodies community, collaboration, and cutting-edge technology,” he said. “The Experiential Learning Expo brought together student innovators, industry leaders, and the greater BU community and this building was designed precisely for this kind of learning experience.”

Expanding the Learning Experience

The Expo, historically serving XCC courses offered through the BU Hub, has been collaborating with the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS) since 2020 through its BU Spark! Program — a computing and data sciences incubator and experiential learning lab within CDS. This collaboration has steadily increased its roster of XCC courses over the past few years, and has hosted its signature Demo Day alongside the XCC showcase. This spring, the Learning Assistant Program (LA) joined ranks as an Experiential Learning Expo partner.

Addressing Real-World Issues

This year’s Spark! Demo Day projects ranged from web applications designed to improve constituent engagement and transparency in Boston's City Council District 7 to data driven investigative journalism pieces published in national media outlets. Throughout the showcase, expo-goers had one-on-one opportunities to explore student works, visit demo stations, and vote on their favorite project. In addition to the wealth of impressive projects, Demo Day called on a prestigious list of judges composed of industry experts from Meta, Google, Microsoft, Red Hat, Intel, and more.

“The student projects spanned the full spectrum of computing and data science from computer vision to embedded systems to app development, requiring a diversity of expertise from our judges and mentors to support and evaluate these projects,” Ziba Cranmer, BU Spark! executive director. “We are so fortunate to have a community of mentors and partners from BU and industry partners, including many Spark! alumni, who join us each semester to make this program possible.”

The recipient of the BU Spark! Demo Day Innovation Award was "Terrier Taste,” an initiative project aimed to combat food waste among BU students in on-campus dining. Through advanced technology, it offered users a tool to make informed eating decisions by sharing menu ratings, reviews, and providing real-time feedback to BU dining for effective menu planning.

The Demo Day Audience Choice Award was given to the "Missing Children" project. Utilizing machine learning-driven, age progression forensics, this endeavor applied the technique to images of missing children, contributing to enhanced efforts in locating them.

Throughout the semester, the BU Cross-College Challenge and Learning Assistant Program engage students in team projects that address a real-world problem or an enduring human question. Dozens of student teams presented their final projects to an engaged and enthusiastic audience. Sandra Deacon Carr, Faculty Director of BU Hub Curricular Initiatives, said experiences like the Experiential Learning Expo are a critically important part of the learning process.

“The experiential learning approach of these programs requires students to engage with external stakeholders – community partners, faculty, students – to address a real-world question or challenge,” she said. “Showcasing that work publicly is an important part of the learning process as it provides an opportunity for students to discuss their projects with a larger audience, generating a greater impact. It also enables us to celebrate their accomplishments.”

The Learning Assistant Program is an initiative designed to improve undergraduate STEM education by employing motivated students to assist with teaching other undergraduates. LAs assist course instructors while being trained how to teach by Wheelock School of Education faculty. Through the guidance of weekly preparation sessions and a pedagogy course, LAs facilitate discussions among groups of students in a variety of classroom settings to encourage active engagement.

Throughout the expo, 51 new learning assistants presented their final projects on redesigning one small aspect of the course in which they teach, combining the pedagogical theory they learned throughout the semester with their in-class, experiential practice of teaching.

“Being a part of the Experiential Learning Expo gave the Learning Assistants a broadened sense of community and a professional forum to present their work,” said Kathryn Spillios, director of the Program. “They spent the semester immersed in their LA experience and then conversed with other XCC or Spark students about their experiences.”

Celebrating Student Innovations, Building Community

Students, faculty, industry and planning partners agree, the Spring 2023 event was not only an exciting opportunity to celebrate students and their innovations, it was a shining example of community.

"Community events like the Experiential Learning Expo are opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and industry partners to come together, celebrate student success and innovation," Bestavros said. "And our CDS home is a dynamic, state-of-the-art space to do just that."


Posted May 15, 2023 | Maureen McCarthy