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Sharing Her Passion: FIRST Robotics

Ten year old Cash Allen knows he’s lucky. While other kids may have spent the summer daydreaming or playing video games, he learned how to program, build and operate robots at a summer enrichment camp at Benedictine College Preparatory School in Goochland County. FIRST Robotics Team alum Aubrey Martin shared her passion about robots with younger kids and sparked their interest to get involved. Read on to discover more (including a WCVE Public Radio Science Matters Report by John Ogle below).

“I’ve always been the kind of guy who likes to take things apart to see how they work,” says Allen. “Now I know how different gear ratios can mean everything when it comes to speed and power.” Allen participated in two of the one-week sessions, which introduced 3rd through 9th graders to real world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to compete in timed tasks, such as speed racing or tug-of-war. Participants not only had fun, they also learned critical thinking and team-building skills. 

The Robotics camps were directed by Aubrey Martin, a VCU mechanical engineering student and Saint Gertrude's alumnus. “I wish there’d been something like this available when I was a kid,” says Martin.

Coming from a family of shop teachers and model builders, Martin was not surprised when she discovered an aptitude for engineering, but it was her experience as a member of the St. Gertrude’s/Benedictine FIRST Robotics team that fired her passion for technology.

“I loved it so much I still volunteer with FIRST and I’m particularly eager to get more girls involved in robotics,” Martin adds. This was Martin’s third year leading the robotics enrichment camps at Benedictine.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international non-profit that sponsors age-appropriate robotics programs to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders. 

“Oh, yeah, we had fun,” says 10 year old Ashton Berry. “It was kind of hard at first, but you get the hang of it, and it’s cool to build a robot and then have a contest with it. This was my first time trying out this kind of thing,” adds Berry.  

“We were looking for something different from sports camps,” says Berry’s mother, Jeanne Indelicato. “Putting LEGOS and robotics together was a great idea. This was a great way to expose kids to something new and see if they have a knack for science.”

To learn more about FIRST programs for kids age 6-14, please visit vafll.cisat.jmu.edu.

To learn about FIRST programs for kids aged 14-18, please visit virginiafirst.org.

Story and photos by Jim Babb/VirginiaFIRST Robotics

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Listen to this Science Matters Report from WCVE Public Radio’s John Ogle.