Locals hope UI robotics camp will spur interest in engineering

BY ERIC LIGHTNER | JULY 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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Dan Shaull said he'd rather build robots than spend the summer playing games.

"Anybody can say they shoot hoops, but how many can say they built a robot," the 14-year-old said.

The University of Iowa tries to use the TETRIX summer camp as a steppingstone to move young kids into For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology and then into engineering- and science-related fields.

Rebecca Whitaker, the College of Engineering K-12 outreach director, said the focus for the TETRIX robotics camp is to generate inspiration in younger people and make the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics more appealing for the next generation.

"Really, it's all about getting young people interested and involved in the STEM careers," she said.

The UI hosted its first session of the TETRIX camp Monday. Officials also hope the camp will push campers forward into robot-fighting competition.

"Our goal is the kids who [go to the summer camp] will want to go into a [technology-competition] team," Whitaker said.

Whitaker said the UI became involved with For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology in 2008 and only had two teams in the state. Since then, the program has grown to 65 teams statewide.

Dan Niemitalo, a counselor at the summer camp and a teacher at Linn-Mar High School, said he has worked as a technology coach for three years. The program adds the same intensity of sports while cultivating an interest in learning, he said.

"It's kind of like going to a basketball game or tournament," he said when describing the tech tournaments.

Niemitalo said the summer camp has given the students a more hands-on approach by giving them the equipment to build the robots on their own.

The TETRIX camp works with the same materials and some of the same instructors as the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology after-school programs at local high-schools. Niemitalo said there has been a lot of success with the program so far.

"We've seen a lot of students go to engineering schools," he said.

Dennis Garrigan, spokesman for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology tech challenge, said the program is 20 years old, and it has provided $15 million in college scholarships. It involves a support network of more then 3,500 different sponsors from both the public and private sector.

Corporations get involved in For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology because it produces students interested in technology, he said.

"They are helping influence the next generation of technology leaders," he said.

Erin Flynn, a camp counselor for the TETRIX camp, said the program has a lot of potential to inspire kids to learn more about technology.

"I think this could really get kids excited with technology and get kids exposed at an early age," she said.

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