Writer: Ms. Linda M. Breazeale, MSU Extension Service
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mariah Morgan remembers inquisitive 8-year-olds, just learning how to program beginner robots for 4-H projects. The rest of the world now sees one of them as a team of champion programmers.
Wait For It, the Rankin County 4-H robotics club, just earned top honors at the FIRST Tech Challenge at Minute Maid Park in Houston. FIRST stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology."
Morgan oversees the 4-H Robotics Program for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. She is an assistant Extension professor with the MSU Extension Center for Technology Outreach.
“Two Mississippi 4-H clubs reached the world competition this year and were among the 128 FIRST Tech Challenge teams competing in the world championship,” Morgan said. “In addition to the Rankin County club, Challenge Accepted, a club comprised of 4-H members from Tate and DeSoto counties also competed in Texas.”
Morgan said the two clubs achieved the ultimate goal of the 4-H program and competed against 128 teams from all over the world.
“We may have introduced them to robotics, but they took their experience to the next level and then some,” she said. “Our goal is to get 4-H members hooked on science, technology, engineering and math. Members of these two clubs are exceptional learners.”
Paul Stewart coaches his daughters’ team in Rankin County. The seven members include four eighth-graders, two 10th-graders and one 11th-grader.
“We heard about robotics through 4-H, and it sparked an interest,” he said. “They were in fifth grade when they started.”
Stewart said the connection to 4-H remains strong.
“We use 4-H to reach our community. The kids enjoy helping with robotics camps to introduce others to the program,” he said.
Stewart said the team was initially just having fun at the world competition.
“We were honored to qualify, and getting there was a reward in itself,” he said. “The stress increased as they progressed in the four-day tournament.”
Wait For It members were part of a three-team alliance, which also included teams from Montana and California, competing in the finals for the top honor.
Tommie Rodgers coaches Challenge Accepted in north Mississippi. As with the Rankin County team, her nine team members got involved in robotics through 4-H.
“Robotics has been an eye-opening experience. Some of the members are seriously considering careers in engineering and technology; others love the experience but don’t want to pursue that career path,” she said. “Everyone has gained public speaking and leadership skills. It’s been very rewarding to watch them grow in their confidence.”
For more information on 4-H robotics projects, go to http://extension.msstate.edu/4-h/stem/.