By John A. Ballentine
On Saturday, June 17, Martin Engineering held a fundraiser for the robotics program at Kewanee’s Flemish-American Club.
Approximately $17,000 has been raised so far for the team. The News spoke with Ashley Dana, Continuous Improvement Champion and Martin employee, and with Paul Harrison, Chief Technology Officer – Director of the robotics team and Martin employee.
Martin Engineering, of Neponset, Illinois is a family-owned business that provides solutions for bulk material systems worldwide. Those problems encountered are carryback, fugitive material, dust, belt mistracking and material flow.
Martin Engineering also is active in community philanthropy and two years ago they formed a robotics team No. 6237 for the benefit of high school students.
Dana is the lead mentor of a group of mentors who volunteer on a 100% basis. Harrison stated, “I put 40 hours a week into mentorship plus my regular 40 hour work week.” There are seven mentors and a pool of temporary mentors for Martin Motion, the team name.
Harrison said, “There are 6,700 robotics teams with 3,500 currently active internationally. The newest teams are from China.” Dana explained, “There are eight schools in the area who comprise Martin Motion.” Those schools are: Alwood, Annawan, Bureau Valley, Cambridge, Galva, Kewanee, Stark County and Wethersfield. There are five to eight students from each of the schools on the team. The mentors do not know where the students are from and they are never separated by schools.
Dana added, “Any student can join regardless of their circumstances.” High school students 14 to 18-years-old are eligible. “It’s cost-free for the students and why we have fundraisers like the one today.”
One hundred percent of the local robotics team of 25 students are planning to continue their path into higher education. Also, Martin Engineering representatives have asked Black Hawk College to support the robotics students by offering dual-credit classes that are related to the engineering field. It is believed by Martin Engineering that this will peak more interest in a student to pursue higher education.
“This [robotics experience] sets the students up for success after high school by teaching them life-skills and teamwork,” Dana said. “Because any student is eligible, and can gain knowledge and experience from robotics, it is more enhanced than other traditional team sports. It is sport for your life!”
Students design everything from ordering parts, to assembling a robot, and also develop a business plan associated with the project.
Dana continued, “Being in rural Illinois, there is no teaching staff or resources provided for students in high school, who are looking for an alternative to traditional careers and who want to enter the engineering field.
“Robotics has really opened the students’ eyes! It helps answer the question for students, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ But not only that, it shows them what it really means to enter a field and become a participant, in their chosen field.”
Harrison, a native of South Africa, explained the technical aspects of robotics. “It takes six weeks to build, design, manufacture, assemble with electronics and computer software, plus educate the driver of the robot.”
The robots are entered into competitions to test the robots and students’ efforts. Yet, the focus is not about robotics. Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, decided to create a competition to make STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] learning as exciting as high school sports. He used robots as a vehicle to get students interested in STEM.
“The rules and scoring in competitions is very complicated, so the students are forced to develop strategies [to win],” Harrison pointed out. “It’s incredibly technical and there are teams who devote 10 students to strategy. They are unbelievably devious and are always looking for ways to skirt the rules.”
Approximately 300,000 students from around the world compete. There were three main elements to this year’s competition. The elements were to manipulate a game piece, collect and shoot balls, and climb a tower. Each team could select two of the three elements to accomplish for the competition.
Martin Motion, in their second year, was voted in a recent competition the most professional and organized team. Harrison says, “We take great pride in that and it came from teams who have been in existence 17 or 18 years. It is really saying something!”
Harrison concluded, “What we are attempting to do is show the students that they have a future and to show them that earning a college degree is not beyond them. Any one of them can do it! More importantly for us is that there are a number of kids who have pretty severe problems in their lives. Robotics becomes a life-changing event for them. That is the reward for us as mentors.”