Armstrong Students Mentor Future Engineers

Armstrong's Engineering Studies Program, under the leadership of professor Cameron Coates, partnered with the 100 Black Men of Savannah to host a Robotics Camp in summer 2012. The program was geared toward students 10 to 16 years old who were paired with Armstrong engineering mentors. The Robotics Program was made possible for the young attendees thanks to the generosity of the 100 Black Men of Savannah.

Over a course of two weeks in July, 13 participants were divided into four groups, each led by an Armstrong engineering student. The Armstrong student mentor introduced the young students to a robotics project and worked with them in the team-based setting to design, construct and program a robotic system. The campers were not only introduced to engineering fundamentals, but they also learned the soft skills necessary for success in the engineering discipline. Armstrong and the 100 Black Men of Savannah provided the robots for the program, which all of the camp participants used to build and operate their projects.

Darrick Baker, a junior computer engineering major who is also a member of Armstrong's Collegiate 100 chapter, led the students through the design, programming and construction of a robotic lock box, using Lego Mindstorms Robots.

“The design was miniscule, but the programming was a lot more complex,” Baker said. The campers got a real taste of what it takes to be an engineer in the process, something that will serve them well as they prepare for college. “As far as engineering goes, they got to work more with groups, and that's what part of engineering is. They had to find the problem, then develop ways to solve it. That's what an engineer goes through on a daily basis.”

Kattelie Thys, a sophomore majoring in industrial engineering, also used Lego Mindstorms to teach the kids. Her group built two golfing robots and got a full spectrum of engineering know-how.

“We decided to build two because one of them had a challenging program and an easy build, and the other had a challenging build but an easy program,” Thys explained. The group work proved an essential lesson for this team as well, something that will serve them through many aspects of life and education. “They learned that working in a group is more efficient than doing everything on their own.”

Baker and Thys also gained a lot themselves from the mentoring process.

“I learned how to work more with people younger than me, to take what I learned then relate it to them. It was a humbling experience overall, and I also like giving back to our future generation,” said Baker.

Thys added, “It was an enriching experience and it was even more interesting working with the kids I had.”

Justin Kriske returned to the robotics camp for the second summer in a row, and found his experience just as rewarding as his first year, if not more, as he led his group through the creation of a “Clawstawker Robot” that required the participants to improvise pieces that were not included in the set.

“During this time,” said Kriske, “I had the opportunity to see the wonder of someone who has innovated in the midst of imperfect circumstances.” Kriske no doubt articulated the Armstrong engineering goals when he reflected that the robotics camp gave him “the opportunity to speak with these student children and really make them think.”

While the summer camp has come to a close, the robotics program will not be ending for some of the participants.

“We are going to select six students from the camp participants who will continue on with more advanced training in order to compete in a regional robotics competition,” said Coates.

The selected young engineers will come to Armstrong's campus twice a month on weekends during the school year and work with an Armstrong student mentor. The mentor will supervise the design and construction of a robot that will complete a set of substantially more complex tasks compared to robots in the summer camp. The goal is to develop a team supported by both Armstrong and the 100 Black Men of Savannah that will competitively participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge regional robotics competition that will be held in Spring 2013.