Two game tables are set up in the classroom after school each week, and the kids surround it watching eagerly as the challenging mission at hand is accomplished by their classmates, and their… robots.
Building robots that complete highly technical tasks is not a foreign concept to most schools in Horry County School District. Robotics teams are a common choice in a student’s options for after school activities.
The wide availability of robot building in the school district is largely the work one local education champion, Bucky Sellers, with support from the school board and administration as well as from the Grand Strand Technology Council. When John Sanders founded the council in 2007, he knew that enhancing the technology sector had to start with advancing technical education and building a highly skilled workforce.
Joe Boggs, the current GS Tech Council Robotics Support Committee Chairman, agrees with John wholeheartedly about the importance of STEM education. “As a mechanical engineer, I see these skills as absolutely critical to the future or our country. Kids are surrounded by technology, but rarely have an idea of how it works,” he mentioned while being interviewed at a FIRST Lego League practice.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a national organization that designs after school programs and competitions for students to try their hand at building and programing innovative pieces of technology.
With the support of the Grand Strand Technology Council, schools in Horry and Georgetown Counties have the opportunity to provide these programs to their students from elementary to high school. Starting the FIRST Lego League (FLL) in the elementary schools, students learn block programming and build Lego robots around their mission achieving computers. FLL competes on a regional, state, and national level.
When they transition to high school, they enter the FIRST Robotics Competition. These teams engineer and program robots that are 5 feet tall and 120 pounds. They also compete at a regional, state and national level.
FIRST is known to demand a great deal of dedication and zeal from students that commit to doing well in competition. In addition to STEM skills, the program requires students to report on core values that were strengthened throughout the season.
“I have seen it make an impact in a lot of students lives. I personally know of several that it changed the direction of their life,” says Joe Boggs speaking on his experience as an engineering mentor to the Carolina Forest High School FRC team.
The coaches, mentors, and educators that make these robotics programs possible are fueled by the belief that these skills are necessary for our future workforce, and life changing for students at such an important stage of their development as citizens, innovators, and leaders.
Jerrin Martus, a FIRST Lego League Advisor and STEM teacher at Ocean Bay Middle School, has incorporated robots into four of her classes. Largely due to her advancement in STEM curriculum, Ocean Bay has recently awarded her as teacher of the year. Her students are building windmills, programming, and engineering with circuitry in the classroom. She also has one of the largest robotics teams in the school district.
In addition to teachers like Martus, there is a community of local professionals that drive these programs. Local engineers and administrators rush from their day jobs at companies like Metglas, Santee Cooper, and Coastal Carolina University to mentor the STEM students that will be their hiring options in the future.
Speaking of the future, Joe Boggs has a few things to say about being involved with what the Grand Strand Technology Council is doing to support the education system in Horry and Georgetown County.
“We haven’t truly seen the impact yet, but I see big things coming for robotics and tech after school. We have good people with a very clear vision. Get on board, or you are going to wonder what
To see the kids in action and attend a local competition, volunteer for an upcoming event, or get involved as a mentor – visit robotics.gstechcouncil.org!