- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A new center that hopes to eventually provide resources for science and engineering students throughout the Kansas City region is now open.

The KC Engineering Zone workspace, a 4,200-square-foot center on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, was officially dedicated this week, although it’s already being used by robotics teams from Paseo Academy and Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, The Kansas City Star reported (https://bit.ly/1wB6GBD ).

The center - nicknamed KC EZ - offers students such tools as Bridgeport milling machines, a metal lathe and shear, a band saw, drill presses and rows of computers. More importantly, professional engineers and Missouri-Kansas City students work alongside students who are pursuing or considering careers in science, technology, engineering and math. It is open Saturdays, holidays and after school.

“This is four hours of love for me,” said 17-year-old Devin Edwards of Paseo, who wants to be an astrophysicist and is already considering several college options.

The KC STEM Alliance and its partners have bigger plans for the center, such as attracting more schools’ robotics teams and engineering projects and holding STEM summer camps. They want to attract students who are already interested in the field as well as those who are just considering it.

“This will be a resource center for STEM for the region,” said the alliance’s director, Laura Loyacono.

STEM fields “are so desperate for engineers,” she said. “They can absorb as many as we can create. And we want these students to have that chance.”

The zone plans to draw more students into programs like the FIRST Robotics competition, without any negative peer pressure, “in an environment where science and technology is celebrated,” said Tim Moormeier, president of U.S. Engineering Co. in Kansas City and project manager for the center.

Moormeier said he was hooked on the robotics competition while watching his son compete on the successful Olathe Northwest High School team, saying the teams have to work together like a good business.

“Every high school” should have “a FIRST Robotics team like every high school has a football team,” he said.

The new space is a big improvement, said 18-year-old Paseo student Maria Ponce. She said last year her team constantly needed more space than its classroom allowed.

“We had to use the hallway,” she said. “We know the struggle.”

Students also were limited by school hours, senior Trey Bradley said. The competition requires teams to build their robots in only six weeks.

“We had such little time, we had no time to practice with it,” Bradley said. “This year? I’m ecstatic about the whole situation.”

The Paseo and Lincoln teams are working hard now, as two of the 52 teams from the Midwest preparing for the Kansas City regional robotics tournament March 12-14 at Metropolitan Community College-Business and Technology Campus.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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