Area students compete in STEM events at ITT Tech

Nathan Baker • Dec 4, 2013 at 10:05 AM

From robots and carbon dioxide-powered drag cars to structural engineering and Rube Goldberg machines, a scholarly competition Tuesday emphasized technology-intensive subjects for local students.

Nearly 200 students from 10 area schools took part in the Technology Student Association Regional Competition at ITT Tech in Johnson City, participating in events in architecture, engineering and robotics.

Mark Bowles, a TSA advisor and a technology teacher at West Greene High School, said the competition teaches students the knowledge involved in their chosen disciplines and encourages them to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills to put those lessons to practical use.

“All of the students here today have worked very hard to prepare for this competition,” Bowles said. “It’s taken a lot of work in the classroom and after school to get them to this point, and it shows in the results we’ve seen here today.”

Student attendance at this year’s regional competition almost doubled the turnout in previous years, a result Bowles contributed to the increasing emphasis local schools are putting on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) instruction.

In one of the most anticipated events, the VEX Robotics Competition, high school teams were tasked with building robots capable of maneuvering a defined course, picking up differently sized balls and depositing them in prescribed areas worth a set number of points.

This year, two Washington County high schools, Daniel Boone and David Crockett, finished first and second, respectively, in the robotics event.

“It was pretty awesome,” Boone student Connor Wilson said of his team’s first-place finish. “We got the idea for our robot from a Youtube video, and then built it from the ground up.”

Wilson commended the Crockett team for having one of the only entries in the competition capable of performing defensive maneuvers to block opponents’ robots from reaching the goal.

Zack Phillips, a member of Crockett’s VEX Robotics team, said he got his start on the team when a friend convinced him to join.

“I had a buddy who was a big part of it, and he asked me a few years ago to do it with him,” Phillips said. “It’s something where a group of friends can get together and do something they enjoy.”

Team advisor and Crockett drafting engineering instructor Guy McAmis said increasing interest in STEM areas of study at the county schools led to the formation of the team.

“Most students in high school don’t know what they want to do with their lives,” McAmis said. “If I can help them to realize that they want to be in one of these tech jobs and then help them to get there, then that’s something that I’m definitely going to encourage.”

To raise the $2,000 needed to fund the FIRST robotics team, McAmis held a fundraising drive, promising he would shave his beloved moustache if the team reached its goal.

On the last day of the drive, the students received their last dollar, something that still puts a big, hairless smile on the teacher’s face.

“It was a gimmick I did to encourage these students to get out there and get what we needed,” McAmis said. “Sure, I had to shave my moustache off, but students all over the school — and even from other schools — heard about that and learned about the program.”

All of the schools taking part in the regional competition can compete in the state competition set March 6-9 in Murfreesboro.

Tuesday’s results do not affect their ability to compete at the state level.

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