This content was published: December 21, 2012. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
STEM breeds interdisciplinary robot competition at Sylvania Campus
Photos and Story by Kate Chester
It wasn’t a typical soccer match, nor were the teams or players well known, but the competition generated an unusually spirited audience of faculty, staff and students at the Sylvania Campus last fall.
Late last month, the Sylvania Campus hosted its first remotely-controlled robotic soccer challenge, which showcased a high level of team spirit because “it celebrated the collective, interdisciplinary effort of faculty, staff and students – along with support from outside PCC,” said Charmagne Ehrenhaus, dean of Sylvania’s Business, Computer Technologies and Real Estate division.
The “World Cup” of robot soccer highlighted collaboration among three Sylvania-based departments: Computer Science, Engineering, and Machine Manufacturing Technology. A month prior to the competition, students and faculty teamed up to participate in a non-credit, “build-a-bot” workshop that enabled students to build and program remotely-controlled robots that would compete in the culminating soccer championship.
Google Nexus 7 tablets served as the “heads” of the soccer competitors; since their bottom halves were fused, robots dribbled the soccer ball with their “arms,” or in their case, paddles. Game day uniforms – variations of University of Oregon, Oregon State University, and a referee outfit – were custom-designed by a PCC engineering student who had a bachelor’s degree in art.
“The month-long experience leading up to the soccer match emphasizes cross-technical learning in what we hope is a fun and engaging environment for students,” said Gregg Meyer, instructor of civil and mechanical engineering and the lead organizer of the workshop. “We hope they’ll want to learn more, that perhaps the experience will open their eyes to STEM disciplines, in terms of majors and possibly, careers.”
STEM is an acronym for fields of study in the categories of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There is a movement at PCC, and throughout Oregon, to bolster the number of students in these disciplines and prepare them for opportunities in high-tech fields.
The idea for Sylvania’s workshop and soccer tournament sprang from a national conference for community colleges oriented toward STEM that Ehrenhaus and Dieterich Steinmetz, dean of Sylvania’s Science and Engineering division, attended in October 2011.
Over a period of three consecutive Fridays, students were taught how to build robots based on themed lessons that offered engineering-focused learning, a fabrication day, and a computer programming-specific lesson.
The first class session highlighted engineering concepts and included a rocket club guest speaker from Portland State University, followed by a demonstration hosted by the Tactical Robot team of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Students accessed Sylvania’s machine shop during the second class and learned how to build robots using new rapid prototyping equipment and conventional shop technology. The how-to’s of computer programming made up the third class prior to the soccer competition.
“We witnessed excitement from the students as they connected the dots between the three disciplines over the course of the workshop,” said Dan Findley, division dean of Math and Industrial Technology. “They began to understand how each field is connected to the other.”