MYRTLE BEACH — A new committee has formed to stoke enthusiasm and support for the area’s robotics teams and is launching its first event in partnership with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
The Robotics Support Committee of the Grand Strand Technology Council was formed in April to maintain the excitement generated in March by the Palmetto Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, said John Sanders, chairman of the technology council. The event, held in Myrtle Beach for the first time, not only brought in teams from 12 states, the District of Columbia and Brazil, but Horry County Schools’ Academy for Technology and Academics was part of the winning alliance, earning a trip to the championship in St. Louis.
“There was such enthusiasm, and we said, ‘We can’t let this die,’ ” said Sanders, a member of the event’s organizing committee. “We’ve got a lot going on in robotics, so the tech council really wants to support it - it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
More than 30 district schools at all levels have robotics teams – some with more than one - thanks to the efforts of Horry County school board member Karen McIlrath and Bucky Sellers, a pre-engineering teacher at the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology, who started a movement two years ago to get robotics education in every school. Some private schools also have teams, while others in the district, as well as groups such as the Boys and Girls Club, are making plans to participate, McIlrath said.
With only a few meetings under its belt, the robotics committee already has set up its first event with the Pelicans on Sept. 1. Robotics Education Night will be held at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark, where robotics, along with baseball, will take center stage, as competitive teams from fourth grade through high school parade on the field and hold interactive demonstrations around the stadium concourse. An information table also will be available for interested residents, who can learn more about becoming team mentors and using their skills and real-world experience to assist the kids and teacher team leaders.
“With technology evolving every day, it is important to educate the youth about future jobs,” said Tyler Alewine, the Pelicans’ community relations manager.
The younger students will be demonstrating tabletop robots they have programmed, but robots at the high school level will weigh up to 150 pounds, said McIlrath, vice chairman of the robotics committee, and no two robots will look the same, even if they perform the same task.
The Pelicans will have a robot throw out the first pitch, and its top-secret design is being kept under wraps by Sellers, its creator. The event also will feature the Pelicans’ popular fireworks show, and it is slated to be held annually for the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, McIlrath said.
“Robotics is a great outward example of STEM,” said Sanders, referring to studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills. “It gets the kids interested in something they can do, get their hands on and see the results immediately.”
Students also learn a variety of skills, such as welding, along with teamwork and how to think creatively, McIlrath said. FIRST Robotics also uses the words “coopertician” - cooperative competition - and “gracious professionalism,” to describe how students learn to work together so that everyone wins and performs at the top of their capabilities.
McIlrath said all of Horry County’s teams can benefit greatly from community support in the form of mentors and financial sponsorships, but she is particularly concerned about the Conway High School team, which has a dedicated teacher and enthusiastic students but is at high risk of having to disband if community funding and mentors are not identified within the next few months.
The Pelicans event is an opportunity for people to talk to the kids and experience their excitement and passion for robotics, McIlrath said, and the committee can help to partner people with teams they want to help.
“We encourage everyone to come out and support the kids,” she said. “We have seen kids with no aspirations beyond high school realize what they can do. It turns on such a passion for learning, and anyone turned on to it will benefit in all areas of their academic life.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.