SMC to host youth robotics camp

Published 11:20 am Monday, February 1, 2016

Thanks to an $11,850 Bosch Community Fund grant, Southwestern Michigan College hosts a robotics camp this summer.

This week-long June camp will be a collaboration between SMC, Lewis Cass Intermediate School District (LCISD), area FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics teams and local school districts.

FIRST Robotics combines the excitement of sports with the rigor of science and technology.

“Promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through the use of robotics has many advantages,” said Physics Professor Andrew Dohm, who wrote the grant as a follow-up to one he obtained for $2,865 in 2014 for the college’s STEM Club and elementary outreach.

“At the high school, there are lots of different elements — business, fundraising, mechanical design, programming — a lot of different things kids have to learn,” Dohm said. “I’m involved with FIRST Robotics on the Lego side. I coached a team this fall” co-sponsored by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.

His Eddy Currents from Edwardsburg, Dowagiac and Elkhart competed Dec. 5 at “Lancer-Bot-Mania” at Lakeshore Middle School in Berrien County.

“Mikki Spagnoli got the ball rolling by asking SMC to a meeting with Cass County high school principals,” said SMC Mechatronics Professor Mike McGowan, who judges FIRST Robotics competitions. “During the discussion I mentioned Andrew and I had talked about offering a FIRST Robotics camp at the college. The group thought it would be great, and from there we went out and received the Bosch grant.”

“The summer robotics camp came about through the request of the schools,” said Spagnoli, LCISD career technical education director. “Edwardsburg, Dowagiac and Cassopolis have robotics teams that compete throughout the school year. We thought if we brought the teams together in a collaborative manner utilizing coaches, mentors and instructors during an intensive summer camp, the students would be exposed to expertise that may go untapped if only exposed to their coaches and mentors.”

“Our goals are to help the teams gain knowledge from a number of experts as well as fellow peers,” Spagnoli said. “We plan on having a workshop during the week to incorporate elementary-aged students to introduce them to the field of robotics.”

The camp, consisting of workshops in electronics, pneumatics, physics, welding, computer programming, CADD, business and graphic design, can accommodate 45 high school participants.

Workshops will be conducted by a combination of SMC faculty, high school teachers and area professionals.

“One day would entail bringing in an additional 45 upper elementary-aged students to work one-on-one with the older students constructing brush bots,” Dohm said.

A brush bot consists of a toothbrush head, small DC motor and a battery.

“They get assembled and decorated,” Dohm said. “You can let them run around a table, on the floor and play games with them.”

“Once established,” he added, “we see this camp as a great tool of collaboration, networking and promoting STEM in Cass County. We feel there will be a need to grow this camp to accommodate more students in the future.”

Bosch established the Community Fund in the United States in 2012 to get involved in community activities at its 90 locations where the BCF supports local charitable projects with up to $3 million a year.

This funding is targeted at scientific, technological and environmental initiatives.

BCF is also principal sponsor of the “Powerful Ideas Classroom” project.

Using resources such as specially-designed lessons, this educational initiative aims to encourage school children from kindergarten to high school to become interested in science, technology, architecture and renewable energies.