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A group photo of all the student participants.

A total of 207 students between third and eighth grades from across Missouri participated in this year’s MU Robotics Design Challenge. Photo courtesy of Satish Nair.

Satish Nair contributed to this report.

The 12th Annual MU Robotics Design Challenge event took place in at Naka Hall on the University of Missouri Campus, and the event was a great success. The Challenge has been hosted annually since 2006 by the Center staff, in collaboration with K-12 teachers, 4-H and other community organizations. The goal is to introduce STEM skills at a an early age, and to motivate them to pursue science and engineering careers.

A total of 207 students between third and eighth grades from across Missouri participated in this year’s event, and the institutions represented in the Challenge were: West Elementary, Weaver Elementary, Boone Country 4-H Robotics, Shepard Elementary, Fairview Elementary, Russell Elementary Robotics Club, Columbia Independent School, Grandview Elementary, Fulton Middle School, Midway Heights Elementary, Osage Upper Elementary, Osage Middle School, West Middle School, Green Park Lutheran School, Forsyth Middle School, Sturgeon/Hallsville Home Club, and Ryan & Adam Banks.

Satish Nair, professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Bioengineering departments, and his research group organize the event annually. Bioengineering Professor Kevin Gillis, former Engineering faculty Bill Pabst and Mark Volkmann, and the College of Education’s David Bergin provided invaluable support, as did the following students:

  • Ben Latimer – Graduate Student
  • Brenyn Jungmann – Graduate Student
  • Brett Niles – Graduate Student
  • Pranshu Mishra – Graduate Student
  • Vinay Guntu – Graduate Student
  • Feng Feng – Graduate Student
  • Ziao Chen – Graduate Student
  • Dana Wegge – Undergraduate
  • Martha Gahl – Undergraduate
  • Jing Wang – Undergraduate
  • Partrick Smith – Undergraduate
  • In Han Kim – Undergraduate
  • Taylor Latham – Undergraduate

“The teams did very well on the challenge and seemed to have a fun experience,” Nair said. “Even those whose robots malfunctioned were able to explain to the judges what went wrong and what they could have done better if they had more time, which is a very important part of completing any ‘design’ project. Everything did come together for the youth that day, and they seemed to genuinely enjoy it.”

The organizers ensured the event was going to be less of a competition and more of an occasion for everyone to test their abilities, learn and work on teams. The goal was education and making the connection to math and science, engineering and jobs.

Participation certificates were provided to all the students. Latimer, the Head Judge, awarded special certificates to top teams in the following categories – creativity, design and teamwork; using maximum number of sensors; using minimum number of sensors; displaying resilience and aptitude when faced with challenges, and tackling the challenge in the shortest amount of time.

There was an also interactive discussion with the students about what is engineering and engineering jobs, which really brought everything full circle, starting with math and science. The discussion also included the following video.

“We discussed the importance of failing via Thomas Edison’s famous quote: ‘I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work’ and its linkage to LEGO robots,” Nair said.

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