Science and Technology News

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Scott members mentor students in robotics competition

by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade
375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

12/2/2014 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- For many years Scott Air Force Base has been supporting local programs that encourage innovation, enabling young people to be science and technology leaders.

One of those programs, the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Lego League, held its first qualifying competition of the year for 4th-8th grades on Nov. 22. This is one of 22 FIRST qualifying competitions that will take place in Southwest Illinois for the 2014-2015 school year.

The FIRST Lego League competition was held in 1989 and engages children in mentor-based programs to build science, technology, engineering, mathematics and life skills.

"What we are trying to do here at Air Mobility Command is spark the interest of the next generation of scientists and engineers," said Dr. Don Erbschloe, Air Mobility Command Chief Scientist. "That's what the STEM program is all about and why we take an invested interest. In addition to competing with this robot, they [children] learn communication skills. They have to explain what they are trying to accomplish and their process to how they got it to work. They all have different roles to play."

For the competition, teams build a robot out of Legos and electric mechanisms and program it to work. While building the robot, teams also conduct a research study. Teams and their mentor plan for the competition months ahead of time.

About two months prior to the qualifying competition date, the team finds out the robot's mission and has to work together to strategize a plan to gain the most points during the mission. Each action, such as moving a ball, is worth points. Teams can earn points during other portions of the competition as well.

Every year, there is a different challenge theme given to competitors. In past years, the challenges were topics like climate and transportation. This year it is education.

With the theme in mind, each team has to explain to judges their team's core values, research project, and robot design. It is through this portion that they learn self-confidence, communication, and leadership skills.
Carla Thorton, Defense Information Systems Agency Engineer, has served as a mentor for 10 teams.

"I help with anything I can, from programming the robot to creating skits," she said. "If I can't help I find someone who can. Anyone can be a mentor."

Overall, the program emphasizes gracious professionalism. While teams are competing against each other for points, they get high marks for working together cooperatively, and good sportsmanship.

"Seeing what the children are capable of delivering during this competition is amazing and infectious," said Mike Harvey, Southwest Illinois FIRST Lego League qualifying tournament coordinator. "Children see things through a different lens. They have no box or boundaries in terms of possibilities. In this competition, we provide the structure and they inject the innovation."

The three winning teams of the 22 Southwest Illinois qualifying competitions will compete in three regional competitions. If they win at the regional competitions, they would progress to the state level. The state winners go to the world level, which is held in St. Louis.

More than 900 scholarship opportunities amounting to over $20 million are available for 2014 through the FIRST program. For more information and to locate STEM volunteer opportunities visit

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