Tiny 'Bots Teach Teams of Tots

Youngsters explore nanotechnology with LEGOS

By: Becky Beddoe

Whirring motors, groans of despair, hands digging through containers full of LEGO pieces, and whoops of excitement.  These sounds and others could be heard throughout the Walla Walla College gymnasium on Sunday, April 15.  

“My energy has been renewed by the stories I have been hearing about what students learned and how this experience has enabled so many to grow personally,” says Marlene Baerg, assistant professor of engineering and director of engineering recruitment.  “To do this at such a young age will be invaluable to them as they develop.”

Teams from all over the Northwest, including some from Alaska and Canada, converged on the WWC campus to compete in the Second Annual North Pacific Regional Robotics Challenge.  Last year’s challenge, the first ever hosted on the WWC campus, brought in five teams.  This year saw twenty.  

“We’ll have a good problem next year with the potential growth that this year’s event will spur across the North Pacific,” says Baerg.  Baerg coordinated both last year’s and this year’s competition.  

The teams were made up of kids ages 6 to 14.  Each team had a robot they had built with LEGO Mindstorm sets.  The robots were programmed to accomplish specific tasks for the competition.  Tasks such as dropping a ball in a box, knocking over specific “atoms” on a moveable platform, separating two magnets, hitting a lever, moving a dump truck onto a platform, then raising the platform, and pushing a box across the table to a specified point were all part of the challenge.

As the event’s emcee, Paddy McCoy, director of village student life, repeated numerous times, “Everyone's a winner!”  There was no second place, and each team received a unique award.

Baerg hopes to involve even more WWC faculty and staff next year by sending two interested parties to a planning meeting in New Hampshire this summer.  Baerg’s vision is to then utilize the attendees’ newfound knowledge by placing those individuals in critical roles for next year’s event.  

Read more about Sunday's event and watch a video the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin posted on their site.

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