Williams attends Robotics Academy at MSU

From Press Reports


Because robots, from remote-controlled machines to unmanned vehicles, are becoming a fundamental part of everyday life, Mississippi State University helped organize and host the first 4-H Robotics Academy.

Altogether, 48 participants representing 27 Mississippi communities, including teachers, 4-H volunteers, 4-H agents, 4-H high school seniors and 4-H youth juniors with their parents, gathered on campus for the five-day workshop, held Aug. 11-15. Half the learners enrolled in the ROBOTC programming language class, while the other half worked with the NXT-G programming language.

Participants included Jennifer Williams of Eupora, Webster County 4-H agent,

Representatives of MSU Extension Service, along with leaders from the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Academy, the NASA Stennis Space Center and the University of Mississippi’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education trained participants. MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering also was involved.

Whether participants trained in ROBOTC or NXT-G, their teachers asked them to think outside the box and use their skills in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to overcome the challenges inherent in programming a robot to perform a task.

ROBOTC teacher Timothy Friez, software engineer at Carnegie Mellon, was part of the team that initially developed the ROBOTC language, and he helped write the curriculum. His assistant, Mannie Lowe, program manager at the Center for Mathematics and Science Education, spearheads the annual Mississippi FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge, a robot competition for middle and high school students. Emma Seiler, assistant K-12 projects coordinator with NASA, taught the NXT-G participants.

“We want them to become experts in being able to learn where information is and how to apply that information so that they can continue that education,” Friez said. “We want to give them hands-on experience so they can learn on their own.”

Mariah Smith, Robotics Academy organizer and Extension assistant professor, said training adults and older students how to use programming languages enables them to share their knowledge with others. She said students need to understand programming concepts because numerous industries rely on robots and the employees who program them, from the advent of robotic surgery to the necessity of robotic tools in agriculture.

“There’s excitement here that’s being built among the teachers and the students because of the opportunity they have to give more students appreciation for science, technology, engineering and math,” said Lowe. “So much of the interest in robotics is coming from an emphasis on STEM and gaming, and this experience at the academy is a hands-on way to show that.”

Seiler, also a former MSU engineering educational outreach coordinator, emphasized that when people learn robotics programming by actually doing it, they retain the information better. When the robots perform the tasks they’ve been programmed to do, programmers get excited and want to do more of it.

Smith said participants’ excitement was palpable throughout the academy, and she looks forward to this being just the first of many.

“Everyone can find robotic applications that can help them in their day-to-day life,” Friez said. “Students and adults need to be willing to understand what those applications are to be able to use them. Don’t be scared of technology — it’s the direction the world’s going