- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - When Purdue University sophomore Kija Davis attended a Kokomo high school, she questioned whether to join the boys in the school’s FIRST robotics program.

“Six years later, I’m still here,” said Davis, a member of Purdue FIRST Robotics. “I fell in love with it and I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t even care if I get made fun of anymore.’ “

Schools across the country have implemented FIRST - which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - robotics programs since the nonprofit’s inception 25 years ago. About 300 elementary school students converged on Purdue Saturday for one its most popular programs, FIRST LEGO League, where students in grades four to eight use the popular toy brand to build robots that accomplish specific tasks.

The event, a qualifier for a state competition Dec. 12, attracted teams from schools in Lafayette, West Lafayette and Crawfordsville, among other cities. Davis said she hopes the program, which is designed to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM fields, will impact students at a younger age in the same way it influenced her.

“I decided I wanted to be an engineer, I decided I wanted to change the future,” she said. “And I like being able to provide that opportunity for these kids, as well.”

During the competition, teams were judged on research, teamwork, design and overall performance of their robots to complete specific tasks. This year’s theme, “Trash Trek”, challenged students to build robots that can sift through different colored LEGOs, with red blocks being “recyclable,” or to remove debris from an imaginary ocean, among other tasks.

“Every one of (the themes) are real world problems,” said Steve Florence, a former West Lafayette educator and adviser for Purdue FIRST Robotics. “And how do kids think about coming up with solutions?”

Brinley Niccum, a fifth-grade student at Wyandotte Elementary School in Lafayette, said she’s participated in FIRST robotics for the past three years.

“The part I like the most is probably the interactions I get with people,” she said, “because it’s a once in a lifetime chance to be around so many people with the same interests as me.”

Her dad, Jared Niccum, is the coach of NERD Bots, one of the school’s two competing teams.

“This is one of the few team sports that they can compete in where every kid can go pro,” he said. “When you sign up for little league, the chances of that kid actually playing professional baseball are pretty slim.”

Niccum said he’s glad his daughter has the chance to get involved in STEM activities - opportunities that some young girls haven’t hand in the past. As for Brinley - she’s just glad to learn.

“Daddy’s definitely the best coach out there,” she said. “Because he’s teaching us a lot.”


Source: (Lafayette) Journal & Courier, https://on.jconline.com/1Lwo8y8


Information from: Journal and Courier, https://www.jconline.com

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