09:58 AM

Community Impact: Jackson County 4-H Robotics

For the past two years, the Jackson County 4-H Robotics team successfully competed at district  and state matches and advanced to the world championship, according to Harold Jarrett, volunteer leader and mentor, who calls the team “one of the best in the state.” It’s one of five robotics teams in Georgia under the 4-H program.

Excelling in competition is something to be proud of, but Jarrett is even more passionate about how participation on the robotics team prepares high school students through an applied STEM program to pursue engineering degrees.

“We have a serious track record of kids who flow through this program into engineering and technology schools and careers,” said Jarrett, noting that 10 of his team’s alumni are currently attending the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We are proud of these results.”

The Jackson EMC Foundation has granted the robotics team funds to purchase materials for building robots in five of the past eight years, including $6,000 this year, according to Jarrett, who says the foundation’s support has “been a critical part” of the team’s success.

“This is the only sport where every kid can turn pro,” Jarrett said. “Being in the marching band or on the tennis team is fun, but there’s little chance those students will be professional musicians or athletes. When it comes to investment of high school time to build a career path, there’s nothing more valuable than robotics to provide the pathway to a technical profession.”

The goals of the robotics team are to expose students to the practical application of engineering principles, build interest in STEM career paths, and provide leadership opportunities. The Jackson County team participates in FIRST Robotics Competitions, which are held throughout the world. The competition season begins at the first of January with a global internet broadcast describing the year’s game, which is a challenge to build a sophisticated robot capable of playing the game.

Teams have six weeks to build their robots with district competitions beginning in March and world competition held later in the spring. For the past two years, the Jackson County 4-H Robotics team volunteered as host team for the state finals at the University of Georgia, where more than 80 teams competed.

“Each year, the game changes with new and complicated requirements,” said Jarrett, noting that in its eight years, the team has built remote-controlled robots to play basketball, ultimate Frisbee, and other games. “The games are complex with multiple layers, and to build a machine that can do all of the game tasks is difficult.”

Volunteer mentors teach students manufacturing processes like welding, fabrication, CAD design, laser and waterjet cutting, wiring, and coding. The team operates like a company with adult volunteers serving as the board of directors who "hire" the company president and department heads from the team of 20-25 students. Jarrett says more volunteer mentors are needed, especially those with engineering or software design backgrounds.

Jarrett says the robotics team provides a quality peer group for students.

“When kids come together to work on robotics, everyone in the room is aiming high,” says Jarrett. “That supportive cultural context is one of the reasons this program works so well.”

For more information about Jackson County 4-H Robotics, visit www.team4189.com.