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Telling a small, baseball-shaped robot to roll around the floor and go back and forth
and navigate a maze may sound like nothing more than a mildly amusing diversion, but
it has a serious purpose when middle school students are learning how to do it with
the assistance of instructors and cadets from West Point.
On Saturday, February 9, the United States Military Academy at West Point and the
Spartanburg Community College Union County Campus help their annual robotics workshop
for middle school students (6th-8th grade) at the campus. The workshop brings together
middle school students in Union County and beyond to study robotics and related subjects
with the assistance of West Point cadets and instructors.
One of the instructors at the workshop was Major David del Cuadro-Zimmerman, an Instructor
with Department of Mathematical Sciences at West Point, who said the workshop is sponsored
by West Point s Center for Leadership and Diversity in STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics). He said that the purpose of the workshop is to encourage
students to study, understand, and acquire the skills related to STEM in order to
prepare them for the workplaces of the future where such knowledge, understanding,
and skills will be even more important than they are today.
Our objective is to engage with middle schoolers and encourage their interest in
STEM, del Cuadro-Zimmerman said. We feel this is important for whatever field they
Part of encouraging that interest in STEM was giving students Sphero robots small
spherical robots capable of rolling around under the control of a smartphone or a
tablet to program to perform tasks.
The Sphero robots enable students to use block coding to improve their skills, del
Cuadro-Zimmerman said. We want them to think through what actions they want the robot
to perform prior to running the code.
The students attending the workshop were divided into groups who, using a computer,
programmed their Sphero robots to perform, first, the simple task of going from the
start point again, and then having them perform increasingly difficult tasks of maneuvering
through mazes and around obstacles.
The cadets Cadet Cpls Kathryn Kochevar, Aidan Place, Lawrence Shepherd, and Cadet
Pvt Shania Harris, a Union native who accompanied del Cuadro-Zimmerman to the workshop,
assisted and advised the students on coding and programming as well setting up the
obstacles the students had to program their Sphero robots to navigate.
Also assisting in the workshop was Dr. Lubjana Beshaj, a member of the Army Cyber
Institute and an Instructor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at West Point,
who not only assisted the students with operating their robots, but also addressed
them on the issues of Cryptography and Cyber Security.
For SCC Union County Campus Director Isaac McKissick had both personal and educational
significance. On the personal level, McKissick is a 1979 graduate of West Point. He
is one of three West Point graduates in Union County, the others being Lynn Lancaster
(1981) and Dan Berry (1990).
On the educational level, McKissick said the workshop is not an isolated event, but
supports the curriculum offered by the campus, a curriculum that is going to expand
this fall along STEM-related lines.
This was an exciting opportunity for partnerships with West Point that support our
upcoming course offerings, McKissick. In the fall we plan to offer additional majors
to include Computer Technology, Database Design, and Cyber Security, Electronics Engineering
Technology, and Pre-Engineering. We currently offer Mechatronics and Welding.
McKissick said this year s workshop went well and that SCC is looking forward to continuing
its collaboration with West Point to provide training in STEM and encourage student
interest in the subject. He added that this will not only benefit Union County, but
also the nation as a whole.
This type collaboration contributes not only to the development of technology-based
skills for Union County, but also addresses the nationwide shortage of qualified STEM
professionals, McKissick said. It is a national security issue and that s one of the
reasons the service academies got involved in it. This initiative is over ten years
old and we hosted the first mobile STEM workshop for West Point in Spartanburg in