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Winter Break Offers Students a Chance to Learn Robotics at Purdue University Northwest

January 07, 2019

By Sue Ellen Ross.

Thirty high school students started their educational New Year by attending a unique Robotics Camp from Jan. 2-4 at Purdue University Northwest (PNW).

The three-day class was sponsored by PNW’s Engineering Department, with the mission of encouraging motivated students in grades 9-12 to pursue an interest in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Each year, we offer a different aspect of technology for the students,” said Maged Mikhail, PNW assistant professor of Mechatronics Engineering Technology. “The camp fills as soon as registration opens because there are a lot of people interested in robotics information.”

This year, the class roster listed students from various Northwest Indiana high schools, as well as some from Illinois. About one-fourth of the class were home-school students.

Ryan Kroese of Palos Heights, Ill., is one of the latter, and he’s finding the camp to be more than he expected.

“We are learning about the future,” he said. “And, eliminating human error in the process of production.”

Rebecca Mitchell of St. John is a junior at Lake Central High School, and is open to any areas that will prepare her for her future career.

“I want to go into radiology,” she said. “This experience (camp) will give me important information I’ll need. We’re learning about the way of the future.”

She added that she previously thought robots were programmed much the same as computers.

“That’s definitely not true,” she said. “Our goal in this class is to learn how to write that different type of programming.”

PNW graduate student Shuyu Wang was on hand to guide the participants as they patiently learned the ins and outs of programming their robotic arm.

“It can be confusing at first,” she said, as the students used their ‘teaching pendant’ (a device the size of a large calculator) to steer their arm in a circular motion. “It does take patience, but they’re doing well.”

Professor Mikhail agreed that the class was saying on task, and added that teamwork and creative thinking also are skills that are developed within the camp experience, and these will take them far in their career choice.

He reiterated that the robotics camp is a hands-on, applied activity of STEM disciplines.

“There is a great workforce demand of jobs requiring science, math, and engineering technology experience,” he said. “We hope that having students still in high school experience the educational and career opportunities in robotics and advanced manufacturing that it will inspire them to take advantage of their high school STEM courses in preparation for these opportunities.”

This year’s camp took place at PNW’s Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center (CMEC) building on Indianapolis Blvd., where labs are permanently set up.

Sponsors for the camp included the Indiana Space Grant Consortium and PNW’s College of Technology.

For more information call (219) 989-2471.

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