(Photo courtesy of Michelle Kutch)
“We had the largest robotics event in Delaware on Saturday and it looked like it was going to be a disaster,” Foster Schucker, founder of the Wilmington-based STEMRobotics, began in a message wrapping up the March 17 VEX IQ event for elementary-school-aged students, held at Springer Middle School.
After the opening Remarks by Mark Holodick, a presentation of the Star Spangled Banner on saxophone by fifth-grader Paolo Ragnolo and a demo by the Delaware State Police’s ever popular (and busy) bomb robot, the competition ground to a halt when Schucker suffered a total computer software failure.
“Through the amazing talents of the scorekeepers, parents, teachers and the roboteers we finished all 238 qualification matches 15 mins late,” Schucker wrote. “I’d like to think that my uplifting mantra of ‘You are doing a great job, now go faster’ helped, but I know it was the efforts of the robotics community to pull it together.”
After those 238 matches, the alliance of Carrcroft Narwhals and MPE Creator Squad was named the champs.
- Second place went to MPE Get Wrecked and Carrcroft Fierce Fire Ants
- Third place to MPE Chubbs and Hyper Tec
- Fourth Place to the Hanby Wolverines and MPE Exploding Bacon
- Fifth place to New Castle County R9 Library and Innovation Center team Newton and the Carrcroft Panthers
The VEX IQ event followed a middle- and high-school event at DSU in Dover on March 3. At the end of that day, Selbyville Middle School, Cape Henlopen High School, Ocean City MD’s Team Titanium Wrecks, Wicomico County (MD) Robotics Club and Indian River High School had all qualified for the VEX World Championships, to be held in St. Louis in April.
As far as youth robotics organizations in Delaware go, STEMRobotics, a nonprofit established in Wilmington by Foster Schucker in 2015, is new to the scene, but it’s making a big impact.
Six libraries in Delaware — Route 9 Innovation Center, Brandywine Hundred, Bear, Newark, Claymont and Hockessin — offer STEMRobotics teams that are free to join. That’s no small feat, at a time when robotics have often been financially out of reach for many kids. Other teams based in schools and clubs like 4H are spread across the state, with over 60 elementary-school teams and 54 middle- and high-school teams. Most are VEX-based.
“We’re on track to meet our goal of 200 robots in Delaware by 2020,” said Schucker, who cofounded STEMRobotics in Pennsylvania with Steve Rhoads in 2009, before relocating to Delaware.
Schucker has worked with different robotics programs, but has found that VEX, a “K*NEX on steroids” type of competitive robotics program that has an age-based curricula, has advantages to other robotics programs, not least of all affordability.
“We can set up a team with the kit and the curriculum for about $1,500,” Schucker said. The state, schools and organizations like 4H may fund them in some cases, leaving the students with little to no financial commitment, aside from travel expenses if they make it to the World Championship.
“Championship events aren’t really the goal,” he says, though STEMRobotics does produce championship teams. “If it’s between giving them an enriching experience and pushing for a world championship, I’ll always go for enrichment first and foremost.”
The season is ending for STEMRobotics, but the nonprofit is always looking for volunteer mentors to help the young roboteers. Schucker stresses that a high level of technical skill isn’t needed to mentor. “If you can button a shirt,” he said, “you can be a mentor.”
If you’re interested in mentoring next season, which starts in October, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.-30-
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