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Economic Development is . . . (increasing the flow) of capital through the community and reducing its leakage.

2011 EDIES Story 19 of 24: Small Rural School District’s Robotics Program Takes Flight

Engineering and creative problem solving are the building blocks of any product design or manufacturing process.   These skills need to be fostered in our youth as early as possible in order for them to engage their college and workforce environments with considerable experience already achieved.   The “Steel of the Knights” Union District Robotics program provides exactly such experience and opportunity.   Bruce Rempe and a group of volunteer coaches are leading four robotics teams to competition in this – the program’s second year.  Participating with the US FIRST family of international robotics competitions, there are programs at both the Middle School and High School levels.   Students design, build, and program robots to compete against other teams in regional, state, and national competitions.   These programs serve the Union District Tama County citizens and others.  Remind me – what are the EDIES.

HOW WE DID IT:
I researched the process, visited other coaches within the state, and attended some competitions.   Then, I initiated the registration process for a team in the Union Middle School for the 2010 – 2011 season.  After announcing the program, 20 students signed-up — and second team became immediately necessary.

HOW WE GOT THE IDEA:
Having been impressed with the generosity and commitment of the athletic coaches making sports possible for his young boys, I was looking for a way to give-back in my own field of technology.   Having stumbled across a television documentary about the US FIRST Robotics programs, it seemed like the natural path both to give-back and to provide a valuable opportunity for science and technology oriented students.

OUR GREATEST CHALLENGE:
Being an entirely volunteer run organization, and without any funding from the local school systems – financing the costs of the program, and finding able volunteers to help as coaches are a constant and ongoing challenge.

HOW WE OVERCAME IT:
For funding issues, an education campaign was started to inform the communities of the program and its objectives, and to solicit support from local businesses and individuals.   Grant style funding was also engaged from major corporate sponsors like John Deere, Rockwell Collins, and Pioneer HiBred.   Coaches have been recruited by pursuing the parent-base of the enrolled students.  So far, this pool has been both able and generous of their time and talents.

ADVICE TO OTHERS:
Get started soon!   Be careful to let the students do all of the work.   Recruit funds and assistance early and often.   Read the game (competition) manuals carefully and repeatedly.

WHAT IS NEXT:
The US FIRST organization offers robotics competitions at three levels;  FLL – which serves 4th thru 8th grades, and then both FTC and FRC which serve the high school aged students.  With each level the robots and the challenges get larger and more complicated.  The current (Rookie) FTC team is the lone high school level team.  We want to advance the program more broadly in the high school, and start an FRC team within the next three years.

I will be happy to visit your organization to answer any question and to provide additional insight into the program.    Team visits and demonstrations are also possible.  For more information, go to Union School District’s website at www.union.k12.ia.us.

Photo by Randy Aiken.

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