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NMSU robotics camps challenge middle- and high-school students

Elias Borchert, a seventh grader at Vista Middle School, leaned over his robot as he tried to figure out why the machine is not making a 180-degree turn as he programmed it to do.

A group of studends and their instuctors pose with their robots on the steps outside a building.
Instructors Brian Clarr and Jim Maes with students at the New Mexico State University College of Engineering Advanced Summer Robotics Camp show off the robots that they built and put to the test in competition. (NMSU photo by Linda Fresques)
A boy works on his robot.
Logan Campbell gives his robot a trial run at the Advanced Summer Robotics Camp hosted by the New Mexico State University College of Engineering this July. (NMSU photo by Linda Fresques)

Borchert is one of more than 60 middle- and high-school students who attended robotics camps at New Mexico State University this July. During the camps, students learned how to program a robot to follow a specific command: go forward, lower the robot?s claw, grab a block, turn around, put the block down and repeat the tasks. The objective of the camp was to introduce students to radio-controlled components and basic programming skills.

?My favorite part was programming, because it makes me think,? Borchert said.

The Engineering New Mexico Resource Network, part of the College of Engineering, hosted two beginning camps and an advanced camp that provided a more in-depth look at the engineering design process and programming skills.

?The STEM-based camps are held to expose students to hands-on engineering in an engaging and interactive camp environment. The camps are designed to inspire students to consider college degrees in engineering,? said Patricia Sullivan, associate dean of the College of Engineering. ?Students involved in the camps benefit by gaining skills in robotics, programming, communication, and the ability to work on team-based projects that apply their knowledge to a real-world project.?

Brian Clarr, one of two teachers for the advanced camp, said that students in the advanced camp took apart the robots and rebuilt them in a reverse engineering process to better understand how the robots operated. During the entire process, students learned how to modify their existing plan if any issues occurred, such as balancing and weight.

?We?re teaching kids how to go from a plan, to designing a robot that will accomplish a task with certain objectives,? said Clarr. ?We?re teaching them how to understand the robot as they go along; how to troubleshoot any problems they may encounter along the way.

?It was honor to teach them and I hope these students go on to compete at VEX IQ and BEST Robotics,? he added. Clarr, a teacher at White Sands Middle School, has students who compete in both competitions. This past year, his team advanced to the BEST Robotics Regional Competition.

The NMSU Engineering New Mexico Resource Network is host to the annual BEST (Boosting Engineering Science and Technology) and VEX Robotics competitions. These school-based co-curricular competitions expose students to many of the same fundamental skills taught in the camps and allow them to use their knowledge to create a robot that competes against many other schools from around the state.