This article originally appeared in the February-March 2018 issue of The Pitsco Network.
Future-Ready: STEM for All
Providing students with hands-on robotics experience opens doors to their future. Strengthening STEM skills benefits all of our communities by giving today’s youth the knowledge they will need to tackle tomorrow’s issues. Unfortunately, not all schools have the resources to provide these experiences. Now, schools in Massachusetts have a new ally in delivering these opportunities: the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
The Guard has long noted a hunger for STEM resources. Over the years, the Guard has partnered with several education organizations in its effort to attract talented, technically minded young people. It was through a partnership with SkillsUSA® that the Massachusetts Army National Guard became aware of a perfect opportunity to help schools meet their needs: Robotics: Urban Search & Rescue.
In this robotics competition created and sponsored by Pitsco, teams of students design and operate remote-controlled robots through simulated disaster areas, seeking hidden explosives and disposing of them.
One point of interest was the overlap with the Guard’s expertise. It maintains multiple explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams and works with bomb squads in state law-enforcement agencies.
“Urban Search & Rescue plays right into our mission,” said Sergeant First Class Geoffrey Allen of the Guard’s recruiting and retention battalion. “You can easily bridge the gap between the robotics the students use and what we would use in a real-world scenario for our own search-and-rescue missions.”
As of 2018, the Massachusetts Army National Guard is taking the lead with Urban Search & Rescue in the state. The Guard is providing dedicated trailers fitted with competition courses for district and state leadership meets for SkillsUSA and is running the competitions.
But that isn’t all. To increase STEM access, the organization is also bringing its trailers and TETRIX® robotics sets to schools that lack resources to become involved in the competition.
The Full Experience
The program has had only a short run, but the interest level from schools has been, in a word, fantastic. The traveling trailers have been booked week after week.
Electronics Instructor Lisa Roy expressed the enthusiasm that many teachers have felt, “The Pitsco Urban Search & Rescue robot event, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Army National Guard, was an amazing day for the students of Greater Lowell Technical High School. Students learned team building, critical thinking, and problem-solving. The Pitsco robots are educational, fun, and challenging for the students. They also provided the students with the opportunity to see the skills they have learned in school used in a real-world environment for search and rescue. Working with the National Guard staff made the event even better for the students and staff.”
Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, the experience the Guard provides is tailored to the wishes of the school. Are teachers looking to introduce complex concepts such as programming and construction, or are they looking to give students a taste for competition? Either way, the Guard is happy to lend a hand.
The team can roll in with prebuilt robots and an obstacle course and host a quick competition. Students have a blast navigating the robots remotely from a command center with the aid of a spotter at the course.
Or, if a teacher wishes, the Guard can provide a more in-depth experience – presenting a whole class on robotics and search and rescue.
The mobile trailers and the expertise the Guard offers are key to this versatility. And, of course, there’s the power of the TETRIX robotics platform.
“There are so many different facets to the [TETRIX] robot,” said Allen. “Students learn about electronics – putting the motherboard and the servos in the right spot. They learn about mechanics and mechanical engineering – put the wrong piece in the wrong way and the robot isn’t going to work. They can even take it a step further, adding modules to the robots so students can program their robots to do simple tasks.”
A Benefit to All
Through the program, students are exposed to the National Guard and its mission to serve community and country. Students interested in robotics or disaster relief can form a vision of their career path based on what they experience. But for the Guard members leading the Urban Search & Rescue program, the reward is also personal.
Battalion Commander Lieutenant Eric J. Dinoto shared his own story: “I was born and raised here in Massachusetts and have two great kids attending our local high school, so to say that I am invested in enhancing our children’s education is an understatement. . . . The Massachusetts Army National Guard is the original community-based organization, and as citizen-soldiers we pride ourselves on giving back to our local communities.”
Guard units across the country have noticed the success of the Massachusetts program and the extraordinary STEM opportunity it offers for the state.
“Some of these schools just don’t have the ability to purchase things of this scale on their own,” said Sergeant Allen. “To give them access to that on our site – it’s a win-win for them. We have a great time doing it, and it has brought us into a lot of schools that really want STEM access.”