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Oregon Tech Challenge kickoff at Molalla High School Saturday


Worldwide robotics reveal to be featured at the statewide event

Spencer Roof, a Molalla High School student studies a section of his Robotics projectIf you’ve ever wondered how lovers of Legos can transform themselves into sought -after future engineers and scientists, check out Oregon’s Tech Challenge kickoff at Molalla High School this coming Saturday, Sept. 7 from 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.

Veteran teams will show off robots that can play tic-tac-toe with plastic donut rings and lift other robots up in the air.

}Molalla’s FIRST Tech Challenge kickoff for Portland area schools will feature the international reveal of the 2013 game that student robotics teams will build and train for in the coming months.

What is the FIRST Tech Challenge?

FIRST is an acronym: For Inspiration in Science and Technology

The robotics program was created to make Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) as enticing to young students as playing in the NBA or becoming a Hollywood celebrity.

Robotics is just a vehicle to engage the students through a real world hands-on experience that solves a problem (the game challenge), and a means for students to learn by working as a team and having fun.

Molalla Robotics club members Sergio Ortega-Rojas and Alex Bieg with their robotToday, thousands of students worldwide compete in the robotics tournaments, funded in part by major companies such as Google, Rockwell Collins and Intel, who need future workers with 21st century engineering and technology skills.

“They are looking for up and coming talent,” said Emmely Briley, a chemistry and physics teacher at Molalla High School who created a robotics club three years ago in response to student interest and with the help of a $4,000 grant she wrote.

Molalla River School District's involvement

After attending a coach’s training, Briley realized it was a wonderful way to build 21st century skills and give students a chance for scholarships. She said some of the companies recruit straight out of the robotic programs. Molalla’s club is just one element of the district’s school improvement focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

Spencer Roof working on Robot.2.“I believe our kids need to be in the game,” Briley said. “Students who come out of this program have experience that makes them valuable in the work force. It opens our kids’ eyes to what’s out there.”

Many engineering companies, government and technology firms contribute money to the program because they have to hire workers from overseas due to the lack of workers with these skills in the U.S.

Students build and program the robots to perform the skills required in each year’s new game challenge. Robotic teams strengthen students’ skills well beyond the scope of the robot’s performance. The club emphasizes team work, game strategy, mechanical engineering, computer programming and professional conduct.

Students must keep an engineering notebook that documents their work process, strategy, failures and problem solving. They also must complete a professional team interview. Awards are given for community outreach and gracious professionalism.

At competitions, two robots challenge two opposing robots on a playing field that looks a bit like an obstacle course and requires students to remotely control the robots with the finesse of a soccer player.

“It’s pretty challenging,” Briley said. “I am very proud that we are growing access to these plentiful opportunities for our students in Molalla.”

Careers related to science, technology, engineering and math have a job outlook that is growing by 20-25 percent, she said.

Molalla club members Amanda Wyland, and Bart Pribble get together with teacher Emmely Briley to plan their project, Robot.2.This year, Molalla River received an $8,000 grant that provides pay for coaches and competitions, enabling robotics teams to be treated similarly to athletic teams.

In addition to the high school team, this year Molalla will have a middle school robotics club run by district math coach Blane Lazar.

Saturday’s event is open to the public and will be live streamed.

The event will also be LIVE STREAMED starting at 11:30 a.m. , brought to you by Batteries in Black and Molalla High School.