PRYOR— With challenges like low student participation, insufficient funding, scarcity of mentors, and lack of adequate equipment and tools, the robotics teams in five Mayes County school districts were looking for a way to keep their programs going.
MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor and several entities in the park including the OSU Institute of Technology Advanced Training Center in MidAmerica Industrial Park found a way to support those programs in a new way.
“The teams were responsible for raising dollars to support their programs and in many cases they were competing for the same sponsorship dollars,” said Tonya Backward, workforce development coordinator at MidAmerica. “We proposed the idea of consolidating the team into one and create a Mayes County FIRST Robotics Team. All the districts agreed because this idea had the potential of creating a stronger program for the students.”
The team meets four times a week at OSUIT-MAIP with additional support from instructors and staff.
“This provided a great opportunity for OSUIT staff and faculty to contribute to the community and share their knowledge with area students. Faculty and staff serve as mentors and team leads in all aspects of FIRST, from design and build to business communications,” said OSUIT-MAIP Outreach Specialist Cassity Bixby.
Mayes County is a close-knit community, Bixby said, and many of the OSUIT-MAIP staff grew up and still live in the area.
“Giving back is always important and supporting youth programs is not only a great way to volunteer your time, but also a wise investment in Mayes County’s future,” she said.
In addition to OSUIT-MAIP, MidAmerica Industrial Park and several companies in the park have already dedicated funds, materials and manpower to the newly created team including American Castings, Cabot Corporation, Google, Grand River Dam Authority, and HE&M Saw.
Scott Fry, MidAmerica’s workforce development director said it was a bit of a challenge at first to get the students to buy into working with youth from schools they used to compete against, but it’s worked out well.
“Students experience so many disciplines in this program. While it’s centered around engineering and technology, students also get exposed to business practices through developing and monitoring their budget to working with vendors to secure required materials and equipment. They work on marketing projects and establishing a team name and logo,” Backward said. “On the engineering and technology side, students learn to fabricate, wire, and program their robot. Students learn the basics of tools and materials as well as high concepts and programming techniques.”
Mentoring is another facet of the program where team members work with industry professionals who share their real-world experience and provide insight into the jobs and opportunities available in STEM fields— science, technology, engineering and math.
Darryl MacKay is an instructor at OSUIT-MAIP and maintenance systems manager at American Castings. He first got involved with Pryor Middle School’s robotics team four years ago and now works with the new Mayes County team.
“I truly enjoy the interaction with the kids and seeing them grow as individuals and start their journey to a career in something they truly enjoy,” MacKay said. “If we want manufacturing to exist and be able to fill those jobs with qualified personnel, we need to get involved early with these kids and help show them why school is important and how it relates to the real world. We have to reach this generation and help develop them into the leaders we need them to be.”
Having the team meet at OSUIT-MAIP and work with mentors from businesses in MidAmerica also benefits the industries found within the park.
“It’s a great chance for us to show what we do,” Bixby said. “Manufacturing can be hard to convey, especially since there is an existing stigma. It’s a great chance to introduce these careers to kids that might have never been exposed to them.”
Fry said by supporting the Mayes County FIRST Robotics Team, MidAmerica is helping to ensure its own future success.
“We need a highly skilled workforce who can apply the technologies of today, as well as tomorrow, and this program does just that,” he said. “We are really excited about this program and the potential it has to help young people in our community set a future direction. We are also thrilled that it provides a link for our businesses to connect with our youth and our schools.”