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WSU mentors help build expertise (photos, video)
Robot competition inspires next generation of innovators
Thursday, May 3, 2012
By Betsy Fradd, WSU Extension
County 4-H robotics teams from around the state.
PUYALLUP, Wash. - "I want to be a computer scientist now more than ever,” said Jacob Ebey, 18, just after competing in the finals of the 2012 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics world championship. His King County 4-H High Tekerz team joined more than 12,000 students from 34 countries in St. Louis, Mo., in late April.
"It’s a friendly environment but 100 percent competitive as we try to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the other teams,” said Ebey, who controlled his team’s robot during the matches.
In earlier regional competitions, groups had six weeks to design and construct a robot weighing up to 120 pounds. Students were given a kit with motors, batteries, a control system, a PC and a mix of automation components - but no instructions.
The High Tekerz team earned a spot in the championship by earning an engineering inspiration award in Seattle. The two dozen high school youth built a robot using an additional computer to do image processing.
Instrumental to the success of each team are mentors who volunteer after school and on weekends. Many of the adults come from business and technology firms and are eager to assist the next generation of innovators.
"We have teens who have never really used power or hand tools,” said Dave Willard, a mentor from Snohomish County. "They get insight into electrical, mechanical, pneumatic and (computer) programming systems, so there are many learning opportunities.”
Adults work with youth on design, fabrication and programming. Non-technical jobs include pit design, project management, t-shirt design and fundraising.
In Washington, clubs from Pierce, Grays Harbor, Clallam, King, Snohomish, Chelan, Benton/Franklin, Spokane, Whitman, Cowlitz and Clark counties participated in regional matches. More than 200 4-H teens brought their skills, enthusiasm and competitive spirit to contests in Spokane, Seattle and Portland.
As a second year High Tekerz club member, Ebey had set his sights on becoming a mechanical engineer. But with increased exposure to other fields and guidance from mentors, he has focused on programming.
JC Penney and the National 4-H Council, along with team fundraising and significant local business support, provided funding for the state robotics program.
FIRST was founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to motivate young people to pursue education and careers in science, technology, math and engineering.
WSU Extension educators who coordinated FIRST programs, helped secure funding and enlisted the expertise of experienced business and industry mentors and involved parents include: Darleen Munson, Pierce County; Nancy Baskett, King County; Tracie Hanson, Grays Harbor County; Gena Royal, Clallam County; Michelle Morrison, Chelan County; Jana Ferris, Snohomish County; Natalie Kinion, Benton/Franklin County; Gary Varrella, Spokane County; Janet Schmidt, Whitman County; Jennifer Leach, Cowlitz County; Brenda Johnson, Clark County.
View a regional match that includes the WSU Extension Cowlitz County 4-H Bits and Bots team here.