Ridgecrest robotics teams earn distinction

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Ridgecrest robotics teams earn distinctionGreat successes in recent robotics competition has proved that local youngsters can more than hold their own against their California peers.

Last year John Paul of New Directions Technology Inc., a local company founded by Cedric Knight to provide innovative solutions through technology, obtained funding through the company to partner with local schools to launch Robotics for STEM, a local collaborative to promote science, technology, engineering and math education through robotics.

J.P. — as he is known by his colleagues — invited local schools to partner with him to bring fundamental concepts of robotics to students interested in pursuing STEM education.

Kate Champeny — who has already led her Gateway to Technology students at Murray Middle School to state and national victories — opened her classroom to J.P., who in return helped recruit mentors and students and supplemented Murray’s existing robotics inventory through NDTI funding.

Starting in June, the eight mentors met each Tuesday night with their young recruits — including three girls from Immanuel Christian School and 11 boys from Murray Middle School — to teach the basic principles of programming and mechanical and electrical engineering.

“We tried to integrate the teams, but the kids sort of fell into the groups they were comfortable with, so we ended up with one girls team from ICS and two boys teams from Murray,” said Champeny.

“Very soon, increased teamwork and group interaction, facilitated by active learning, became central to the participation of the students,” said JP. “It became very evident that interactive teaching paradigms, collaborative decision-making and hands-on instructional technology were key factors to building relentless curiosity in young minds.”

In February the students had an opportunity to compete in the California High Desert Middle School League Championships for VEX — the platform that students were using to build their robots.

“You know, we work in a bubble here,” said Champeny. “The kids have only each other to compare themselves to, so it wasn’t until we got to the league competition that we really got a sense of how the kids perform.”

The league brought together 28 teams from the high desert region. For the majority of the competition, the local teams were the top three performers in the field.

Although the girls ended the competition in fifth place (see additional story on page 1), the two local boys’ teams came in first and second place. The victors qualified for the state competition, where they advanced to the quarter finals.

JP noted that Robotics for STEM looks to continue partnerships with local schools, as well as the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, to develop programs that allow seasoned engineers to mentor students.

“The organization will help facilitate the transition of high school students into community colleges and then into universities,” he said.

“Perhaps some will even return to their home town of Ridgecrest and find challenging careers at [China Lake] to ensure that a qualified workforce continues to flow into NAWCWD to meet the ever-increasing need for engineers and scientists.

“No matter where they go, the goal is to encourage and foster them into a career in STEM fields, and in turn, start or support STEM programs in their own communities.”

Champeny acknowledged that the present partnerships seem to have given local students an advantage when they compete in broader arenas.

“What is it about our community? I can tell you that there is really no distinction in the performance quality of our local kids. But when you take them out you can see how they outperform their peers,” said Champeny.

She said that having so many mentors with a high level of interest and expertise in STEM — and being able to give students exposure to those mentors — is a tremendous advantage.

“The GTT program in our district is very well established. When we took that foundation and leverage it through the generous donations and involvement from NDTI, our kids really benefited.”

J.P. said that anyone involved in becoming a sponsor can contact him at 760-793-4079.

Pictured: Murray Middle Schoolers Sam Marler, Thomas Munro, Kabir Kara, Trevor Frisbee, Akif Dhar and Fernando Rivero (from left) at their league championship victory earlier this year. -- Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2015-04-17