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December 13, 2017

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Student robotics teams and their business benefactors hope to build on momentum

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Students from Nate Mack Elementary, from left, Chacen Rasavong, Kole Jacobs and Elijah Biddle, were among the Nevada representatives at the 2017 VEX Robotics Worlds competition in Louisville, Ky. in April.

A group of Henderson students involved in robotics clubs at their various schools recently competed in a world championship with the help of area businesses.

Students from Greenspun Junior High, Basic Academy of International Studies and Nate Mack Elementary earned spots in the 2017 VEX Robotics Worlds competition in Louisville, Ky., after netting state titles in their respective age divisions earlier this year.

With the clubs being entirely self-funded, the hard part wasn’t qualifying for the event — it was raising the money to travel the more than 1,800 miles to compete.

The business community in Henderson stepped up, raising $12,500 in a single night at a Henderson Chamber of Commerce event in April in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Biz + Bots initiative.

Henderson-based tech company Tronox donated $2,500 and Mayor-elect Debra March donated $1,000, for a total of $16,000 for the night, eclipsing the initial $11,000 goal.

Although the students didn’t win, they learned lessons at the competition that could prove more valuable than any trophy.

When the Nate Mack students arrived in Louisville, their robot didn’t pass the initial inspection because their robot was an inch too big when open. So the students worked together, rebuilt and reprogrammed the robot overnight and ended up netting the highest score they’ve ever registered.

“We had some matches that were amazing and strong, and some that did not go in our favor, but throughout it, they did not give up and worked as a team,” said Nate Mack Elementary robotics team coach Casey Juliano, who initially reached out to the Chamber of Commerce for fundraising help for the teams.

For the next school year, Juliano will switch from teaching third grade to focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) studies. Nate Mack Elementary will convert its library to a STEM library this summer.

As a result of the success, all three schools will expand their robotics clubs’ presence next year. The Henderson Chamber of Commerce has adopted the teams and will continue to help raise funds.

“These robotics teams are preparing students — as young as elementary school — for jobs that are currently changing the face of the manufacturing industry,” said Scott Muelrath, president and chief executive officer of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce. “It absolutely behooves the Henderson Chamber to support our city’s future workforce by helping them go as far as they can.”

These skills are becoming increasingly sought in Nevada, home of such technology companies as Tesla, Faraday Future and Switch, with additional Google and Apple facilities on the drawing board.

The STEM-related economy is growing faster than the nation’s economy as a whole, according to “Nevada K-12 STEM Pipeline,” an article by UNLV College of Education instructors David Vallett and P.G. Schrader. In Nevada’s elementary schools, about 15 percent of classroom time is dedicated to science instruction, according to the article.

According to the Nevada Advisory Council on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics 2016 Strategic Plan, few Nevadans consider STEM careers largely because they are not exposed to STEM education as students or are not made aware of the career opportunities in STEM available to those with some postsecondary education.

Fostering the local manufacturing industry’s future workforce supports the goals of the Henderson Development Association, the Chamber of Commerce’s economic development arm.

“Being involved in a robotics team encourages excitement for STEM-related jobs, as well as teamwork, innovation and more,” Muelrath said. “These are all qualities businesses look for as well. We’re excited to support these young professionals on their journey to becoming our future business leaders.”

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