By: La’Erica Conner-Sims
Dr. Eric Cheek is connecting with schools and organizations to help local children identify STEM–science, technology, engineering, and math careers. He currently works as the Interim Assistant Vice President of Continuing Education and Summer Programs at DSU.
Dr. Cheek was able to recruit children from several institutions to become a part of a national program called FIRST. The acronym FIRST stands for ‘For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’.
“The idea of this program is to introduce kids to the excitement of STEM areas through a robotics program,” said Dr. Cheek. “What we are doing is using robotics to get them interested in the math and science and the general STEM areas by having them build robots and meet a certain challenge.”
The FIRST program operates out of the Thomasson Building and includes elementary, middle, and high school students. There are currently three grade-specific programs for students.
China Genwright, a senior engineering major, is the coach for Bythwood’s team. “I think that it’s a great opportunity, especially for younger minority kids and students that are females,” Genwright said.
“My robotics team is a group of four girls and they’re very smart.” Genwright plans to help to promote programs like FIRST for other students so they can have more exposure to the field.
The Junior FIRST LEGO League is for students in grades K-4, the FIRST LEGO League is for students in grades 5-8, and the FIRST Tech Challenge is for high school students. Each year, the FIRST LEGO League students have to create robots that are based on a centralized theme.
“This year, the theme is ‘nature’s fury,’” Dr. Cheek said. “So what they’re going to do is build several different missions around keeping people safe during the different natural disasters, whether it’s hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, tsunamis, all of these different things.”
The students also complete a research project that requires them to develop a plan to keep people safe during a natural disaster.
Maya Bythwood, an 11-year-old student and member of the F.I.R.S.T. program, will be participating in the FIRST LEGO League.
“I like things that challenge me and it’s fun to work in a group that I know,” Bythwood said. “I think the most important thing is the research project. It helps you know more information about that area and that topic.”
For more information about the FIRST program, contact Dr. Cheek at (302) 857-6823.