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NSBE robotics team excels in national competition
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Members of Martinsville-Henry County National Society of Black Engineers Junior Chapter’s robotics team are (front, from left) Brandon Stokes, Mindy Salas and Roderic Ross Jr. They are shown with coach Roderic Ross Sr. (back). Not pictured is member Marc Patterson. (Bulletin photo)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville-Henry County National Society of Black Engineers Junior Chapter’s robotics team recently placed sixth in a national competition.

The team competed at the NSBE National Convention, held March 26-30 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., said chapter adviser Helen Howell.

The team consisted of Roderic Ross Jr. and Marc Patterson, eighth-graders at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, and Mindy Duenas Salas and Brandon Stokes, eighth-graders at Martinsville Middle School, Howell said.

Roderic’s father, Roderic Ross Sr., an information technology engineer, coached the team.

“First Lego (League, FLL) has worked with NSBE all year, and they sent FLL representatives to Nashville to judge the competition,” Howell said.

According to its website, FLL is a robotics program designed to get children excited about science and technology and teach them employment and life skills.

The MHC NSBE robotics team placed sixth out of 16 teams nationally, Howell said.

The teams were judged in four areas: core values, robot design, “project” (identifying a problem, developing an innovative solution and sharing with others) and “mission table” (in which the programmed robot carries out missions), according to Howell and the FLL website.

Mindy, Brandon and Roderic Jr. explained that core values include such things as having fun while learning, team members learning and working together, being positive in what you’re doing and “carrying yourself with gracious professionalism.”

“It’s not just about competition,” Ross Sr. said. Members of the competing teams were encouraged to discuss their projects and ideas with each other, he added.

The theme of the competition was “Nature’s Fury,” and each team used a robot to “respond” to one or more natural disasters on a mission table, the coach said.

The problem this team identified was the need for a quicker or better response to victims of hurricanes, such as when people were stranded on rooftops during Hurricane Katrina and needed food, water, medicine and dry clothing, Ross Sr. said. The team’s solution was to use a Hovercraft, which normally is used as a recreational vehicle, as a safety vehicle to get supplies to people or to rescue them, he added.

The team did a lot of research on the project and even talked with local and national Red Cross officials about the possibility of using Hovercraft in a natural disaster response, he said.

“They thought it was a great idea,” he said. Because of debris, some boats can’t reach people who are stranded, but a Hovercraft could travel in water and on land, he said.

The team assembled the “mission models” (or setting pieces) on top of the mission board using nearly 1,000 Lego pieces, including buildings, obstacles, people, pets, standing and fallen trees, truck (loaded with fuel, water and medicine), cargo plane, a tsunami wave cylinder, roof debris, house debris, ambulance, and other items and obstacles, according to Ross Sr., team members and the FLL website.

Teams competed in several 21?2 minute rounds. Teams could program their robots to do missions such as remove a tree branch without touching a power line; move people or pets to safety; transport supplies and equipment to a safe zone; move over various obstacles; lift a house; put in place a directional sign; etc.

The MHC NSBE robotics team did such things as manipulate a cargo airplane, an ambulance and a cargo truck into a safe zone; release a tsunami; pull a palm tree limb down without touching a power line; and move over various obstacles, Ross Sr. said.

His motto is, “There is genius in every child,” he said. “I saw the genius come out of each one of these students (on the team) on different levels.”

For example, he said, Brandon was strong at programming the robot, architecture and design; Roderic Jr. was strong in research and putting the PowerPoint presentation together; Mindy was strong at developing innovative solutions and helping the boys speak; and Marc was strong at asking questions.

Mindy said she learned: “You can’t just do everything by yourself. ... Somebody else may have a better idea.”

Roderic Jr. said he realized, “You can do better as a team than you can by yourself.”

Brandon said he learned: “It was possible to have fun and learn at the same time. Learning isn’t always stressful. Working together is better than working individually.”

“They’ve been very dedicated students,” Howell said, adding they met every week at Martinsville Middle School to work on the project, and sometimes stayed late. “They had initiative to do this (work). They wanted to do this,” she said.

She also praised Ross Sr., who fell on ice Jan. 30 and broke his ankle but continued to go to the middle school weekly in a wheelchair to coach the students.

“He also went with the team to the convention and had to stay in his room with his leg elevated except for the time he had to be with the students for the competition,” Howell said. “He is not getting paid anything for this (coaching). This is all out of his heart — caring for children.”

Howell said middle school students from the chapter also participated in science fair projects at the national convention, and judges gave feedback. The students presented projects on such things as vegetable power (fuel), weather and caffeine. The students had to do media and board presentations.

The students who participated included Luis Romero, Dustin Staples, Glenda Argueta, Rayshaun Gravely and Nicholas Ramey. All are students at Martinsville Middle School. Nicholas is in the seventh grade, and the others are in the eighth grade.


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