Robot Camp

Area students are spending their summer learning about robotics.

In a classroom full of wires, computer chips and miniature rubber tires, Victoria Gershuny stood in front of a projector screen speaking to a group of elementary and middle school students. She explained some basic computer coding and most of the group watched attentively. A few children eagerly glanced over at the robots they’ve built using those same wires, computer chips and tires.

Creating robots is the main attraction at S.Y.STEM Coalition’s robotics camps, a series of summer camps held at several Tucson locations this summer.

Gershuny, president of S.Y.STEM Coalition, is the head instructor of this particular camp held at Nosotros Academy in Tucson’s Barrio Hollywood neighborhood. She said the camp’s goal is to introduce kids to careers that aren’t often depicted in popular culture.

“An engineer, a technician, a scientist, you don’t really know what those careers look like, and you have a very narrow view of the world,” she said.

Some of the students at the camp attend Nosotros Academy, while others do not. Registration for future camps is open to the public on the group’s website.

Throughout the weeklong camp, children have the opportunity to construct vehicle-like robots and use them to perform tasks. The machines are powered by batteries and maneuver with two wheels. The robots can be programmed to perform several different actions, according to Oren Riback, a Nosotros Academy teacher and outreach co-coordinator for S.Y.STEM Coalition. Possible actions include navigating a maze and performing a dance routine.

Older students are given more freedom to explore the technology. Riback said middle schoolers can play around with the robots’ code, while it’s all blocked out for elementary schoolers. The camp gives students of all backgrounds access to resources that aren’t available at many schools.

“It’s really fun for S.Y.STEM Coalition to do a camp in this part of town in the Barrio Hollywood neighborhood, where a lot of these students don’t typically get to do this kind of activity,” Riback said.

For Gershuny, the biggest payoff is seeing kids become excited by science and technology.

“I think the part of camp that speaks volumes is when, on the last day of camp, camp is over and there’s still four or five kids sticking around in the room that don’t want to leave because they still want to program their robots to do something different,” she said.

S.Y.STEM Coalition is a nonprofit organization that creates programs to inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math——a group of fields collectively known as STEM. The group engages and empowers students through industry-centric, experiential learning with the goal of shaping and developing the next generation workforce. 

S.Y.STEM Coalition started in Tucson and has expanded to several cities in the southwest United States.

This is the fourth year for the camps, and interest has been growing steadily. 

S.Y.STEM Coalition is also known for organizing “Junior Shark Tank,” a competition for high school students interested in entrepreneurship and invention.

Participants form teams and work on business ideas during a four-week period in June. Local business leaders provide mentorship and help the teams prepare for competition day, June 29, which looks a lot like the popular TV show Shark Tank.

“At the end of the program, these teams are going to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, including prominent business leaders here in Tucson,” Gershuny said. “Then the winning team gets to win scholarships to help pay for school.”

This, like the robotics camps, is a means to the coalition’s goal: introducing students to a future they didn’t know was possible.

Dylan Reynolds is a Kent State University journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.

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