Students create robots

CHAMPION — Fourteen local students from grades five through eight tinkered with the future Friday as the Ohio Youth Entrepreneurship Program’s robotics camp wrapped up after three days at the Trumbull Career and Technical Center.

Students built, programmed and tried out their robots against each other, competing in robotic lifting and hauling exercises.

But Julie Michael Smith, youth entrepreneurship coordinator at Youngstown State University, which organized the camp, said the experience was about more than just futuristic creations.

“It’s important to reach students at this age,” said Smith. “It can help inspire and nurture their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) interests.”

Students seem to agree.

Theresa Cranston, a sixth-grader from Howland Middle School, already has lofty goals. She wants to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and work with robots.

“(The camp) was really fun,” said Cranston, who encourages other students to try the camp.

Historically, STEM fields have been thought of as “male” in nature. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center report, only 14 percent of engineers over the age of 25 are women. But Alaina Jackson, a counselor at Trumbull Family Fitness who brought students to the camp, hopes to change that.

“We’re trying to push girls to do what they want to do,” said Jackson.

“This age group is important,” said Terri Fleming, a teacher in the Trumbull Career and Technical Center’s engineering program. “We keep trying to get more ladies excited at this age.”

Organizers of these types of programs are familiar with the “skills gap” in STEM fields, which refers to employers’ difficulty in finding qualified employees.

“We think about that all the time,” said Smith.

The program also helps students develop what Smith called “21st century skills,” including creativity and collaboration.

Problem solving skills are also a vital component of robotics, said Mike James, a teacher from the Columbus area who helped run the camp.

“So many kids lack problem solving skills,” said James. “Kids have become so fixated with people telling them to do things ‘this way.’ We need to teach them that there are other ways to do things.”

Kevin Bridgeman, a seventh-grader from Lakeview Middle School, said the camp was a new experience that let him do things he had never done before.

“If you have a passion to build robots, it’s a great start,” said Bridgeman.