Robotics in the Region empower minds, brighten futures for students

Robotics in the Region empower minds, brighten futures for students

In the dynamic landscape of education, robotics programs have emerged as influential catalysts, offering students unparalleled opportunities to acquire essential skills and knowledge. These initiatives not only enhance students' understanding of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) concepts but also foster personal growth, equipping them to tackle the complexities of the world beyond textbooks.

Pre-Engineering Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Teacher and Robotics Coach at Crown Point High School (CPHS) Matt LeBlanc underscores the significance of hands-on robotics experiences in shaping students' skills and conceptual understanding.

“They use the Engineering Design Process to apply the skills learned in STEM, to solve real-world problems,” LeBlanc said. “The robotics programs provide an interactive and engaging way for students to apply skills learned in Math, Science, and Art. It doesn't replace traditional classroom experiences but enhances them.”

In a lot of these programs—including VRC Robotics Director at Portage High School John Kappes—robotics is a student-led venture, where learners take the reins of their journey into this technological frontier. In this role, coaches and mentors play a pivotal role as facilitators and guides, ensuring students stay on course within the process-driven framework. 

“For us, robotics is student-led. It's their endeavor," Kappes said. "As coaches and mentors, we facilitate, guide, and monitor the process-approach to keep students focused.” 

Participation in competitive robotics clubs yields a plethora of benefits beyond technical expertise. Students acquire personal accountability, resilience, effective teamwork, and enhanced communication abilities through their engagement in these activities.

“Having to work with others for extended periods helps me improve my problem-solving and teamwork abilities, which can be applied in any setting,” Veer Jhaveri, a senior at Munster High School (MHS) and a member of the robotics program, said. “In terms of technical skills, my work primarily focuses on engineering. I have gained valuable workshop experience, working with tools like a vertical mill, laser cutter, drill press, bandsaw, and various hand tools that will help me develop my interest in a future pursuit of engineering in college and as a career.”

Collaborative teamwork is a cornerstone of robotics projects, and these competencies seamlessly transfer to professional settings.

“Students learn how to handle interpersonal conflicts, advocate for their ideas, collaborate on brainstorming, and distribute responsibilities to those best suited for them,” LeBlanc said. “These skills cultivate incredible leadership abilities that can be applied in any industry.”

Along with these abilities that students can adopt, teams must navigate challenges together and reach a consensus on goals and tasks, mirroring real-world project management scenarios.

Community engagement and partnerships formed by students are highly valued, teaching them the importance of positively representing their school and community.

"As coaches and mentors, we facilitate, guide, and monitor the process approach to keep students focused," Kappes said. "This means the teams must navigate the process and come to a consensus on their goals and tasks.  At the top of our Robotics mission is the community engagement and partnerships the students create.  We value them dearly. They put in numerous volunteer hours sharing and educating various community groups." 

In the previous season, LeBlanc's team at CPHS excelled in both VEX and FIRST competitions, securing numerous awards and even competing at the World Championships. Kappes proudly notes that Portage Robotics has a rich history of success, with several State, National, and World Championships under its belt. Last year, multiple teams qualified for State, Nationals, and Worlds, solidifying their reputation for excellence.

Along with these achievements, Hautzinger talks about the extension of their club throughout the years, making these successes worthwhile. 

“Things have really evolved from the early years of 10 students and a robot that could, at best, be described as ‘at least being able to move’ to where we are today,” Larry Hautzinger, coach of MHS' robotics team, Munster Horsepower, said. “We routinely have 30-40 kids involved in the team. Now we regularly compete with the top teams in the state. Two years ago, our team just missed out on winning state, finishing second in state. Last year our team finished third in the state.” 

Alongside these remarkable team achievements, there's always room to explore what lies ahead and what students can gain from this invaluable high school experience.=

“My experience working in a team to solve a common problem and reach a solution is similar to what professional environments look like,”  Jhaveri said. “The combined problem-solving of the group helps to get through harder problems together, which can be critical under time pressures that both our robotics atmosphere and professional atmospheres have."