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Students Mentoring Local High School Robotics Team to Encourage STEM Career Interests

Friday, January 03, 2014

Helpful Advice: Senior mechanical engineering student Zach Ernst (red shirt) gives some tips to Vigo County high school students making up a rookie team for FIRST Robotics' 2014 Crossroads Regional, hosted by Rose-Hulman on March 6-8.

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology students are encouraging Vigo County teenagers toward careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by mentoring a first-year team for the inspirational FIRST Robotics competition.

This activity brings the excitement of a sporting event to science and technology as teams of high school students build robots to complete a task, which changes annually. FIRST Robotics shows students that science, technology, and problem-solving are not only fun and rewarding, but proven paths toward successful careers and bright futures.

Thirty students from Vigo County School Corporation's Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South, and West Vigo high schools have met at Rose-Hulman during the past month to learn more about the competition. This year's game and a standard set of parts (common to all FIRST Robotics teams) will be presented on Saturday, January 4, during a kickoff event on campus.

Then, the team will spend the next six weeks at Rose-Hulman's Branam Innovation Center developing a robot to meet the challenge at FIRST Robotics' Crossroads Regional, hosted by Rose-Hulman on March 6-8. A total of 44 high school teams from eight states are registered to participate this year.

"The students are eager to start working on the project," says Kelli Greenberg, a senior Rose-Hulman biomedical engineering major. She sought to organize the team after witnessing the fun and excitement as a volunteer at the 2013 Crossroads Regional, which brought hundreds of energetic high school students to campus last spring.

"I knew there were high school students with great ideas locally that just needed to be encouraged to join in the challenge," says Greenberg, a 2010 Terre Haute North graduate. "I have been delighted by the enthusiasm shown by students, parents, sponsors, and school officials. Now, the hard work is about to begin."

Vigo County School Corporation officials embraced the idea and several national and local businesses have provided financial support to the team.


Getting Started: Kelli Greenberg (right), a senior biomedical engineering student and Terre Haute North High School graduate, helps local high school students begin planning for this year's FIRST Robotics competition.

Rose-Hulman has provided workspace and technical expertise for the team, and nearly a dozen Rose-Hulman students are serving as team mentors after being motivated toward STEM careers by their own involvement in the FIRST Robotics program.

"These students want to give back to the FIRST Robotics program. They realize how fun and exciting the adventure will be for the local high school team," says Greenberg. "However, they also know that it's going to take a lot of hard work to have a robot ready for the local regional competition."

Other Rose-Hulman student mentors include Erik Lawrence, Steven Kneisler, and Rahul Yarlagadda, computer engineering majors; Nick Aellen and Zach Ernst, mechanical engineering students; Rick Clark and Bryan Pizzichemi, chemical engineering majors; Dan D'Avello, an electrical engineering student; and Danielle Gehron, a biomedical engineering major.

FIRST has provided a grant to encourage the rookie team, while Cyan Optics of Petaluma, California, has provided additional financial support. Local sponsors include EDA, Gold Buyers International, Lawrenco, The Pawn Store Inc., Rick's Smokehouse & Grill, and Square Donuts.

Students and sponsors can join the effort by contacting the team through email, visiting the team's Facebook page or reaching Greenberg.