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Reaching a younger generation with the allure of STEM

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Students give robotics a try in the RCS High School gym. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — The fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are among the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and students at RCS and their peers are looking to encourage their younger schoolmates to get on the bandwagon.

The Ravena Rattlesnakes, a FIRST team based at RCS, recently hosted a demonstration of robotics and other STEM fields — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — to give students in the community exposure to robotics and related disciplines, with the hope of getting more younger kids involved.

FIRST is a robotics community that enables young people from pre-kindergarten through high school and college to participate and compete in STEM activities where they learn robotics, computer science, coding and more.

FIRST teammates demonstrated what they do in robotics and how younger students can get involved. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

The demonstration was hosted by the Ravena Rattlesnakes, led by team co-captains Elizabeth Robertson and Max May, with the help of other FIRST teams from around the region.

“Our goal is to get the community more involved with STEM and FIRST,” Robertson said. “We are just trying to get more kids into robotics and to see how cool it is, and then try to get them to join a team or look into robotics and STEM. It is the wave of the future and there are not many opportunities at RCS for this kind of learning and getting a new perspective on things.”

“We want to get more kids wanting to do robotics and start more teams to get everyone involved in this,” she added.

The Ravena Rattlesnakes’ display gave local kids an inside look at FIRST and STEM activities. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Joining the Ravena team in performing demonstrations in the two high school gyms were FIRST teams from Greenville, Niskayuna, Ballston Spa and Chatham. Roughly 40 FIRST teammates from around the Capital Region participated in the demonstration.

In competitions, the teams are on opposite sides of the aisle, but during the demonstration at RCS, they were united in a single purpose.

“We have competed against some of them and we partnered with some of them,” Robertson said. “It’s awesome that we could get everyone together and have this great community show off robotics and how we are all willing to support each other.”

The robotics teams ran stations of activities geared to students of all ages, giving kids a chance to try out the robots and learn what goes into creating the technology they see in real life every day.

“We have activities that the kids can do, we have all different teams of FIRST from around the Capital Region showing the kids robots and how they work, and we are showing the full spectrum of FIRST,” Robertson said.

Teams from around the Capital Region helped demonstrate what robotics and STEM are all about. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

May, who co-captains the team with Robertson, said he would like to see kids get involved in a specific and growing STEM field.

“I want to see an explosion in computer science,” May said. “This stuff is really cool, but we can’t do any of it without the coding aspect of it. That’s what I want kids to take away from this — we need more computer scientists in the world and this might be a way to get more kids involved.”

As kids went from station to station, they checked off a to-do list with a tasty treat awaiting them at the end.

“We created a scavenger hunt for the kids,” Robertson said. “They have to talk to someone from each level of FIRST that we have here and then get a check-off. And they also have to do some sort of LEGO competition that we have. Then they take their finished scavenger hunt list and they go to the cafeteria and get ice cream as a reward. It’s just a way to get them to go see everything before they get the ice cream and leave.”

Kids practice their building skills with LEGOs. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Ravena teammate Sydney Campbell just got her start on the team this year but has become fully immersed in it.

“This is my first year and I absolutely love it,” Campbell said. “I love constantly solving problems with the robot and there’s always something to fix.”

Learning about robotics and STEM fields also helps create a more in-depth understanding of the real world, she said, from knowing how a television works to how a microwave cooks your food.

RCS District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey was on hand for the demonstration and said the fields explored by FIRST are vital to modern-day life.

“Look at our world today — there are very few things we can touch or do or experience that is not based on this type of technology, robotics and automation,” Bailey said. “For the kids to have exposure to it in a very playful way, where they can assemble their own and see how things work, is inspirational. It’s great to get them interested in mathematics and science and engineering and the things that they can eventually do. It’s spectacular.”

Which toy car is the most aerodynamic and the fastest? FIRST teammates know. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media
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