Summer Camp Highlight:

Four-wheeling Soccer

“3-2-1, go,” and they are … off—Collin College robotics campers scramble to get their newly-made robots on the playing field for a rousing game of robot soccer.

This summer, in addition to camps ranging from nursing to entrepreneurship, Collin College hosted two robotics camps. The all-girls and a mixed, boys and girls camp were created by Dr. Greg Sherman, Collin College physics professor, and retired Collin College Mathematics and Engineering Professor Tom Mobley. Sponsored by State Farm and Rockwell Collins, the three-day camps offered seventh-tenth graders the opportunity to learn both the mechanical aspects of robots—literally, making the robots move—and how to program robots. Campers put their ingenuity to the test with robot beauty contests, obstacle courses and robot soccer.

McKinney resident Nathan Elsworth and his 12-year-old son observed the mechanical soccer game from the sidelines. Elsworth is a software developer at State Farm, the main sponsor of the camp.

“I’m a part of the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) team. I’ve always been interested in robotics, and I decided to come and learn about it. I am really impressed. Growing up, we didn’t have things like this. The kids get to learn about engineering concepts and program robots to run. It is really nice to start out that young,” he said.

Designated robot drivers propel their robots toward the ball with the flip of a switch coupled with newly gained programming abilities. The rest of the campers snap photos and videos of the event to the mounting goal chant “get it in, get it in.” In response, pink, green and orange robots charge the ball.

Returning to the camp for the third year, sisters Jessica (Allen Freshman Center) and Kimberly Nwokorie (Allen High School) watch to see how their teams’ robots are faring.

Kimberly’s four-person team was named “The Silent Assassins.” She said she and her teammates each took turns programming and building the robot.

“I like the building aspect and designing software. Our robot is simple, but it works well. I like engineering. When girls are engineers they are shown respect,” she said.

Jessica says her robot won the beauty contest last year. This year she is on “The Salt Squad.”

“I like building stuff and combining my ideas with other people’s ideas and talking to other people about engineering,” she said.

Hannah Abraham (Murphy Middle School) says she wants to be a mechanical engineer like her sister who is studying the field in college now.

“If you like engineering and computer programming, then you can do this camp. Before I didn’t know how to program stuff, but now I do. I programmed the robot to have the arm spin and push the ball,” she said with pride.

With a minute left, robot arms swing wildly as a robot defending the goal desperately tries to get the ball to the other side of the field. The goal is safe, and the end-of-game buzzer sounds.

Born in Florida, Collin College student Stephen Lorenz clearly recalls watching space shuttle launches. A robotics camper from the inaugural 2011 Collin College robotics camp, Lorenz is now president of the Collin Robotics Club, and he plans to earn a degree in aerospace engineering. For the last three years, Lorenz has helped guide campers through challenges in programming and building robots.

“I love how easily you can teach programming to kids. You can teach basic logic and switches, and from there it is just a matter of how much time you want to invest. This gives them a hands-on idea of what programming is and what they can do with it,” he said.

The summer is waning, and the 2016 Collin College robot soccer games have come to a close. However, for these campers, who wield the power to program and build functional robots, the STEM adventure is just beginning and the future is burning brightly with possibilities.