Two area high schools’ robotics teams are heading to California to compete in the VEX World Championships in April. La Plata High School’s Angle Warriors and Calvert High School’s The A-Team bested 26 other teams in the Southern Maryland VEX League Championship held at the College of Southern Maryland Feb. 16. Their success—and that of all budding engineers in Southern Maryland—has been the goal of CSM faculty and staff since the college’s first robotics competition in 2006.
The combination of an increased interest in STEM fields among area students and an increased demand for engineers in Southern Maryland could not have come at a better time. According to a 2011 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest concentration of jobs in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) was not in the center of Silicon Valley, but in a non-metropolitan area: St. Mary’s County--with 207 STEM jobs per 1,000 jobs.
“The enthusiasm for robotics has grown enormously over the past few years and that enthusiasm has inspired many young people to pursue careers in STEM fields,” said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried.
“With reports such as the one from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, students can see that Southern Maryland is the place to be—they don’t have to move across the country to pursue big dreams,” said Gottfried, adding that students also don’t have to leave Southern Maryland to earn an engineering degree thanks to a partnership between CSM, the University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering and the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC).
“What is really exciting is how efforts such as robotics competitions are meeting requests from the community to grow a pipeline for engineers,” said CSM Industrial Studies Professor Bernice Brezina, coordinator of the Southern Maryland VEX Robotics League and robotics competitions at the college.
Among area organizations instrumental in helping to build an engineering pipeline is SMECO (Southern Maryland Energy Cooperative) who has created a $100,000 scholarship endowment to provide financial assistance to full-time students entering or currently enrolled in CSM’s associate of science in electrical engineering program.
“We are supporting students in engineering because our business relies on a well-educated workforce, and we need employees who possess these skills. More and more, technology plays a significant role in electric utility operations. We look forward to a day when the skills students are learning in competitions like this will be used at power plants and in substations, or used in the field to inspect and repair high voltage power lines,” said Kenneth M. Capps, SMECO senior vice president of engineering and operations, and the chief operating officer who announced the endowment scholarship during the opening ceremony.
The day started with 28 teams from 16 middle and high schools vying to qualify for the VEX nationals and worlds. When the day ended, teams from all three Southern Maryland counties advanced: La Plata High School from Charles County, Calvert High School from Calvert County and the Dr.
James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center from St. Mary’s County which qualified for the VEX Nationals in Nebraska.
Teams competed in a VEX game called “Sack Attack” which required robots to pick up bean bags and score them in goals. To build and program robots to complete this feat required teams of students to think and work collaboratively as engineers.
During his keynote address prior to the start of competition, Michael J. Zeher, a member of the Senior Technical Staff at the Johns Hopkins University - Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) talked to students about the importance of teamwork. Zeher is the Section Supervisor for Robotics and a Project Manager for the Revolutionizing Prosthetics and the Advanced EOD Robotic System (AEODRS) programs. Among the projects he works on with his team is the cutting-edge science that moves robotic limbs using the mind.
Brezina, along with CSM’s Institute for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (iSTEM) and STEM coordinators from Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, created the Southern Maryland VEX League to offer more play opportunities for Southern Maryland teams.
“I hope we may improve how we do this each year as we attract more sponsors and volunteers,” Brezina said. Sponsors for the Southern Maryland VEX Robotics League include the CSM Foundation and the Charles County Technology Council. Mark Czajka of the Charles County Technology Council presented a check for $250 to La Plata High School’s Angle Warriors, winners of the Excellence Award, to help pay for their travel expenses to the VEX World Championship. CSM’s collegiate team, the Talons, are sponsored by The Patuxent Partnership. The LEGO Championship-Junior Division in April is sponsored by Wyle.
“We couldn’t put on events like the VEX championship without the help of the CSM Foundation and community sponsors,” said Gottfried, who added that it is not just funding that sponsors provide—it is also dedicated volunteers, mentors and event support.
Through STEM, CSM is hosting “Spotlight on STEM” in April with events expected to draw more than 3,500 area students and educators, among them the LEGO Robotics Championship-Junior Division with 94 elementary and middle school teams.
For information on sponsorship opportunities, visit http://www.csmd.edu/Foundation/ or contact CSM Development Director Martina Arnold at MArnold2@csmd.edu or 301-934-7649.
For information on CSM robotics programs for elementary, middle and high school, and collegiate levels, visit http://www.csmd.edu/stem/.
To view results and photos from the 2013 VEX Robotics League Championship, visit http://www.csmd.edu/News/MediaResources/13Febvex.html. For additional photos of the day's events, visit http://csmphoto.zenfolio.com/13febrobots.