This April, the Westminster Academy (WA) robotics team qualified for the FIRST Robotics World Championship. FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” and it’s mission is to design accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math while building self-confidence, knowledge and life skills. The purpose of WA’s FIRST Team 744’s is “to glorify God and to exemplify gracious professionalism while equipping students with knowledge of science and technology through creative problem solving and competition in the FIRST robotics program.”
In order to qualify for the world championships, the robotic team had to perform at the top of the competition in the state and, subsequently, in the regional competition. Each team created a robot designed to perform specified tasks and partnered with other teams to perform those tasks. The term “gracious professionalism” is used often and even is included in the scoring rubric. Students are expected to perform well while also working collaboratively and respectfully with one another.
Nearly 20 million in scholarships are offered during the competition and numerous seminars are hosted by world class programmers and mechanical and electrical designers. Stolley notes, “For some students [these scholarships] are the difference between dreams of engineering school and the reality of engineering school.”
He also believes innovative vision is important and said, “Seeing the world’s best robots in action expands the mind of each student. It is my goal that each student be able to view the world around him or her as a dynamic three-dimensional orchestration of time, space, matter and energy. Seeing the great designs of men allows us to better enjoy the marvelous designs of God in His creation. Studying the designs of God allows us to more efficiently design machines for the benefit of man. An expanded view of the world is of huge import.”
Students Explore Stratosphere in Project Reach
At Calvary Christian Academy, an exciting project called Project Reach soared to new heights this year. Two seniors from CCA set out on a mission to take an experiment done by a group of MIT students to the next level. After watching the students’ video on YouTube, they inflated a weather balloon with sufficient helium to reach the middle stratosphere. Will Hinson and Sean Herbert, both 17, equipped the six-foot-wide balloon with a GPS; a computer recording altitude, temperature, and pressure; and two GoPro cameras. The two cameras, set at different angles, captured images from 90,000 feet in the air. After traveling 260 miles for more than 3 hours in flight, the balloon finally popped and the equipment, protected by a thermal box and attached to a parachute, descended back to earth. It captured awe-inspiring images of the brewing top of a cold front, the earth’s edge with our universe as its backdrop, and an airplane that looks like a child’s toy.
Will and Sean spoke to the Sun-Sentinel in March. Will noted, “You can see the curvature of the earth and space at the same time. It’s really just an interesting way to put things in perspective.”
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to the ways of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Will and Sean are certainly putting things in perspective and seeking transforming educational experiences.
The first launch didn’t even make it off the ground leaving them disappointed and perplexed. They had spent over 50 hours working complex math formulas, spent over $1,000 and drove to rural Alabama to bring their vision to life. After some reflection, they realized that Alabama was colder than Florida, on which they had based their original calculations. Therefore, the balloon needed more force to take flight. They simply added more helium and she was off!
When asked what contributed to their success, Will said, “Physics, programming and math — a lot of math. Mr. [Jeff] Greene helped us connect with the people we needed to connect with and talked us through several possible scenarios. The school also helped with funding.” Sean continued, “A lot of engineering design was used in building the thermal box, which carried the scientific instruments that Will programmed. We both learned that at CCA.”
“We’re doing things beyond what a normal student would do,” Sean told the Sun-Sentinel reporter. “We do things just for curiosity … that’s what science is.”
Benefits of STEM
Greene pointed out that, “STEM initiatives hugely influence the education of our students and build tomorrow’s scientists and engineers. We need local Christian companies to support our scholars as they pursue their natural interests. When this happens, we all win.”
Both Greene and Stolley are examples of teachers who spend countless hours to inspire, mentor and teach the next generation of leaders in science and technology. Both are clearly committed to cultivating both the intellectual and spiritual facets of their students.
Stolley concluded by saying, “Seeing my students embrace tough engineering programs in college and successfully contribute to US industry upon their graduation is my greatest reward. My small offerings of time, knowledge or wisdom live on in the lives of my students. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve students and Christian families in the world of robotics.”
Terry Morrow, Ph.D. is the president of Morrow and Associates Partnership for Leadership and Transformation. She is an assistant dean and assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.