Mid-State summer camp exposes students to mechanical skills

June 27, 2014

From wisconsinrapidstribune.com: “MSTC Vex Robotics Camp exposes students to mechanical skills” — About 25 middle schoolers and their parents descended on Mid-State Technical College to watch robots compete against each other Thursday.

And the neat part? The children built the robots themselves.

Over the past four days, coaches at MSTC’s Vex Robotics Camp taught students the basic process of building and developing their own robots. Thursday’s competition was a culmination of the students’ week-long effort and gave the youths an opportunity to showcase what they learned.

Richard Breen, an adjunct professor at MSTC, is one of the camp’s coordinators and coaches. He said he hopes the children take what they learned and apply it to life outside the camp.

“We hope that we inspire them to go on and do more — and a little bit with programming,” Breen said.

However, Breen noted that programing and mechanical techniques are not the only lessons they learn. The students also practice soft skills such as teamwork, problem solving and time management in their race to build the ultimate robot.

“It’s got all those great elements that culminate in the competition to see who designed the best unit that can perform the task to the best ability,” said Gary Kilgas, associate dean of MSTC’s technical industrial division.

The robotics camp introduces students to different facets of math and science they might not encounter in the classroom.

“What I see is that they’re able to use cellphones and computer systems very well, but their mechanical skills are not necessarily there,” Breen said.

Exposing today’s youths to these mechanical and engineering skills is especially important, said Kilgas, because many employers looking for workers are unable to find qualified people because of the skills gap.

“We need those types of talents here. We have got businesses looking for CNC (computer numerical control) operators or people who understand automation,” Kilgas said. “And those are all the types of things you’re learning here (at camp).”

This is this summer’s second week of the Vex Robotics Camp. And according to Kilgas, it’s been a success so far.

“It’s not only the right thing to do with these young people — keeping them interested in technology, engineering and math — but it’s a wonderful way for them to learn new skills and work as team,” Kilgas said.

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