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Robotics camp opens path to STEM academy
Keshav Anand watches a robot perform a task. - photo by Jennifer Sami

About this article

This is the latest in an ongoing FCN series on educational school camps for children this summer.

On a recent week, they were building and teaching robots to pick up balls. A decade from now, they could be the engineering industry’s brightest minds.

Forsyth Central High School was helping foster that learning through its one-week robotics camp for middle school students.

Unlike many camps run through the local school system, Central’s was being taught with help from students in its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, Academy.

David Johnson, head engineering teacher at the academy, said his students “created their own game” for the camp.

“They came up with the rules and the penalty points and the score points,” he said. “They designed a prototype robot that the kids duplicated the first two days.

“All throughout the week, they’ve had mini games to stress driver control, autonomous programming, trade-offs between speed and torque, some physics concepts and some math concepts.”

The high school students weren’t paid for their work, but the profit generated from the camp will go toward Central’s robotics program.

That means Trent Callan, one of two student leaders at the camp, can benefit from new parts and tools.

The camp, Callan said, started off as a way to raise money, but it’s become much more.

“We’ll be graduating soon and we’re seeing a gap where there aren’t enough students who are interested in what’s going on, so we really wanted to bring in some of the younger kids and get them up and running throughout the system,” he said.

“So by the time they get to us, they’ll really have a strong drive and a strong interest and really want to pursue this pathway.”

Brandon Gross, Callan’s co-captain, said the campers are learning a lot, but they’re not alone.

“It’s actually helped me learn things by explaining,” he said. “I can figure out how much I know about it. Because to teach it, you really have to know a lot about it, so it’s easier if you have that understanding.

“We really wanted to inspire the younger kids and get them interested in the STEM field and have them enjoy robotics, that way they have a passion for it when they get into higher grades and into college.”

For Little Mill Middle School student Coley Chapman, the camp was just something fun to do.

“I really like making stuff and seeing it work and I really like engineering and stuff like that, so I thought it would be fun,” Chapman said. “I’ve learned that you have to redo a lot of things because you mess up a lot.”

On a recent afternoon, Chapman was working on a robot with Amy Trobaugh, who shared the sentiment of repeatedly trying.

“Once you make something, there always might be a possible chance that you have to change it,” she said.

Trobaugh said she joined the camp because her older brother was one of its instructors.

“I wanted to be doing this like him because I’ve seen a lot of his robots work and they’re really cool because they can climb and they can shoot Frisbees,” she said.

It’s the fun aspect of robots that brings kids into the program, according to Callan.

“We cover it up with ‘robotics,’ but what this is really aiming at is teaching them the engineering principles and knowing how to use the tools and being able to program,” he said.

“When they get to the work force, they’ll have a leg up on everyone else ... on getting those jobs and being successful and possibly being a part of something big.”