The global competition, hosted by the South Carolina FIRST LEGO League & Robotics Education, is designed to pique the interest of elementary, middle and high school students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
“We want to show students that learning can be fun, and what they’re learning can be applied to careers,” said Tonya Hamann, NIWC Atlantic STEM outreach coordinator and robotics lead for the command.
NIWC Atlantic employees like Nina Campbell, information systems security manager for Marine Corps projects, lead teams as robotics coaches.
NIWC Atlantic has been assisting the FLL program since 2009 and participation grows each year. More than 200 NIWC Atlantic employees have volunteered for the season.
“We want students to see the missions, get motivated and get creative ideas about how they want to approach the competition,” said Campbell, robotics coach for Fort Dorchester Elementary School’s The Gator Bots. “We want to get them excited about robotics design.”
Each year the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) releases a challenge based on a real-world scientific topic. Teams of up to 10 children, with at least two adult coaches, participate in the challenge by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field and developing solutions to problems they encounter along the way.
The kickoff event, also sponsored by Boeing and Hanahan Recreation and Parks, covered topics like how to engage an expert, process of developing your topic and a scavenger hunt.
“Our senior leadership team was immediately on board when we first brought up the idea of hosting the FIRST LEGO League Kickoff,” said Beth Demas, distance education programs manager at the South Carolina Aquarium. “The Aquarium's education department is committed to bringing STEM education to students throughout South Carolina. We saw this as another opportunity to further STEM education in our state.”
This initial portion of the FLL season runs from September to November. Qualifying teams from regional competitions have the opportunity to proceed to national and then international competitions.
“I like robotics because I can hang out with my friends while doing it,” said Aiden, eleventh grader from James Island Charter High School. Last season, Aiden’s team built a robot that could pick a ball up from the ground and move it around a grid.
In addition to their involvement in in FLL, NIWC Atlantic employees participate in other STEM outreach events like Girls Day Out, DimensionU and STEM FEST to help nurture the next generation of scientist and engineers.