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NIU Robotics Club mentors young engineers

November 5, 2013

NIU Robotics logoFor an aspiring engineer, building a successful project is one of the greatest things in the world. Meeting a team of engineers who can teach, articulate and demonstrate how to be an engineer is a close second.

Members of Fox Valley Robotics & Batavia Robotics got the best of both worlds when the NIU Robotics Club helped mentor them inside College of Engineering and Engineering Technologies (CEET) facilities.

The NIU team spent several hours with the club members reviewing last year’s robot designs and this year’s design progress.

“We want to get them thinking like engineers by getting them exposure to real engineering facilities as well as being able to be around other engineers that have more experience and can teach them a few things,” said Kevin McNary, president of the NIU Robotics Club. “It helps them realize what they could be doing down the road.”

NIU Robotics Club members are planning another meeting with the Fox Valley youth, this time in Batavia.

Parent coach and supporter Rob Koska, senior consultant at Koska & Associates, LLC, echoed the importance of building young students into engineers and allowing an outlet for creativity at a young age. “The NIU team was also able to discuss motor configurations, six bar designs and crank rockers, among other design elements. They also discussed how the Fox Valley team will need to step up and move to CAD to enhance their concepts.”

Lego graphicFounded in 2002, Fox Valley Robotics and Batavia Robotics provides robotic programs for first- through 12th-graders.

The club is divided into three different groups: the LegoWolves, which is first- through third-grades; the LegoDogs for fourth- through eighth-graders; and the Coyotes for high school ages.

Each division has different skill levels; projects are age-appropriate.

LegoWolves build robotic models and researches current worldwide topics. The hands-on program encourages the young minds to be creative and to look at life around them through new experiences.

LegoDogs use Lego pieces, paired with electro-mechanical parts to design, build, program and compete with robots in yearly events designed around a current world topic.

Lastly, the Coyotes Division presents the next challenge with two different robotic platforms using steel and/or aluminum pieces with a variety of sensors and motors to create a robot not to exceed 18-inches-by-18-inches-by-18-inches in a competition that combines autonomy and skilled operator control.

The club is also part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) organization that helps encourage students to stick with those fields by awarding scholarships, much of which goes unclaimed.

The NIU Robotics Club is helping them in other ways, such as building a new website and looking for corporate sponsorships.

“It is important to help build that pipeline because, many times in high school, they have problems keeping the students interested in those areas excited and involved. This allows them an outlet for their creativity,” Koska said. “Overall, this was an extremely positive experience and everyone left more enlightened and highly enthusiastic.”

NIU Robotics robotIn its second year as a CEET club, NIU Robotics already achieved high levels of success.

Last March, NIU Robotics won “Most Innovative” at the 26th annual Jerry Sanders Creative Design Competition. The club’s entry was the first successfully flying robot in the history of the competition.

Members also have reached out to DeKalb middle school students to educate the young engineering hopefuls in their areas of interest and exposing them to career paths.

“It is exciting that the newly created Robotics Club has joined the other student organizations in reaching out to other schools to promote engineering and technology and is helping to get students excited about careers in both areas,” said Omar Ghrayeb, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. “The impact of their outreach is crucial and needed to recruit future engineers to help fill the high amount of graduates needed from engineering and technology programs.”