E D U B O T S
SHAPING THE FUTURE OF ROBOTICS
My STEM Mission, by Harrison Ford
As a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) mentor, Kettering University senior Harrison Ford coaches the Flint high school robotics team through a revolutionary program on Kettering’s campus. The goal is not to win competitions, it’s to inspire and help inner city students in Flint to attend college.
Without a doubt, being on a robotics team changed my life for the better and gave me direction. I know first-hand the character building benefits of STEM and robotics. Through FIRST, I received a scholarship to Kettering University, one of the country’s top-ranked engineering schools, where I’m nearly finished with my degree in mechanical engineering. That’s why I’m dedicated to a mission: to integrate STEM, especially robotics programs, into every school curriculum.
A lot has happened since that last Edubots column. I’m honored to have been appointed to the Michigan state MISTEM Advisory Council (Michigan Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). The Council is made up of politicians, community leaders, one teacher, and myself. We are assigned to research ways to integrate STEM education into the curriculum at schools. We need to come up with a strategy to promote the programs that were put in place and create opportunity for the future of STEM. I take this assignment very seriously, and I welcome ideas.
Through the Flint Inspires Real Engineers (F.I.R.E.) program at Kettering University, I mentor the high school robotics team at the FIRST Center: a permanent space where they can build robots for competitions with great equipment in a college environment. Our mission is a little different than other robotics teams. It’s not about winning competitions. Our goal is to get kids excited about going to college and to find ways to get them there.
NEXT GENERATION OF PROBLEM SOLVERS
It’s hard to believe that more evidence is needed, when you just have to look at all the ways students benefit from robotics programs: discipline, organization, long-term planning, teamwork, the spirit of competition, self-reliance, and training in valuable technical skills. Most importantly, it teaches problem solving. We are all problem solvers no matter what field we go into, and we need more capable problem solvers, not just for our cities and states, but also for the world.
THE BIGGEST HURDLE
While many students want to participate, the biggest hurdle for a robotics team is its aft er-school status. We see the same story over and over: a student gets excited about being on a robotics team, but has to drop out because they can’t get a ride home, or have to take care of a brother or sister, or have to chose between sports and robotics. There’s a great immediate reward in sports: cheering crowds and social status. It’s hard to compare the thrill of playing on the football team with being in a machine shop, working intensely on a robot. But, once kids attend a robot competition, they get the same exciting adrenaline rush. The reward is there and more!
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
Our F.I.R.E. team is currently building a series of robots for First Strong Hold, a medieval-themed competition spread over months, beginning in March 2016. The game this year is to conquer an opponent’s goal going through obstacles set out to make it harder for players to do so. If we qualify locally, we’ll progress to the state level, and if we do well there, we go on to the world competition, held in St. Louis this year. But no matter what the outcome, we will have accomplished our goals, and had fun doing it.
THE LAST WORD
Omitting STEM and robotics programs from school curricula during regular school hours is simply a mistake. It’s outdated thinking, and it ignores the importance of teaching practical skills and resourcefulness. I’ll be reporting on our mission’s progress in upcoming Edubots columns.