The issue: Demand for programs that feature science, technology, engineering and math are on the rose

Local impact: School district is implementing activities, such as robotics, to offer hands-on opportunities.

Over the years, statistics have shown many American youth have lost interest in careers focused on science, technology, engineering and math, but all of that is changing as an increased focus has been placed on finding ways to get them involved in those areas.

One way is through an extra-curricular program known as FIRST®, which is the world’s leading non-profit program serving youth through a focus on science, technology, engineering and math. One of those programs is known as FIRST® Robotics, and students in Redwood Falls have been participating in those program for a number of years.

According to Todd Steve, one of the team’s mentors who has been involved with robotics locally since it started, this year’s robotics program involved 46 students in Grades 9-12, adding this is the biggest team in the history of the program. 

Among those who are participating this year is Ethan Whited, who has been involved in robotics at Redwood Valley since he was a freshman. Whited said being part of the program has been a lot of fun over the past four years, adding he has learned a lot along the way.

As a member of the build team, Whited said not only are there opportunities to brainstorm ideas during the process, but there are also plenty of times to learn what does and does not work.

All of that, he agreed, is valuable for him as he moves on after graduating from high school.

Tommy Amberg, who joined the local robotics team for the first time this year, sees the program as providing hands-on chances to take what he has learned in the classroom and apply it.

“A lot of it is about problem solving,” said Amberg.

Whited added the successful creation of a robot for the program requires everyone working together as a team.

While Whited and Amberg worked as part of the build team focused on the mechanical aspects, others, such as Rain Midthun, have focused on the programming.

"The programming controls how the robot drives and functions,” said Midthun, adding that means writing code that makes that all possible.

For Midthun, having a chance to work with computers in programming through the robotics program has given him an avenue to explore an area he is interested in pursuing after high school.

“Working with programming is like putting together a puzzle,” said Midthun, adding the idea is to find ways to make it all fit together.

“I have always been good with computers,” added Midthun. “For me, computers just make sense.”

Midthun has also been part of the robotics program since ninth grade, adding he learned the programming portion from a past participant who mentored him. Now he has the chance not only to hone his own skills but to also serve as a mentor for the next generation of robotics team members who will take over the programming.

The challenge this year, called FIRST® Power Up, requires team to lift “cubes” and then place them on a platform at a height of five feet, and the local team created a robot that can elevate the cube to that height and keeps the “cubes” in place with a clamping system.

The team has overcome some challenges since it started this year’s robot. It had to “bag up” the robot Feb. 20 and will not work on it again until the competition. That is being held in Duluth March 7-10.

The team's ultimate goal is to be selected for the final round, which is something that has not happened for the local team.