Arkansas students learn robotics skills

Neva Dagtas (middle) of Little Rock celebrates as her robot, "Walle Jr.," wins the robotics camp competition for fifth and sixth graders. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UA Little Rock Communications.

A new summer camp at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock introduced more than 30 Arkansas students to the exciting world of robotics competitions. 

The camp, held July 31 to Aug. 4, taught students how to build and program robots as well as how to compete in VEX IQ robotics competitions.

VEX IQ is a snap-together robotics system designed from the ground up to provide educational opportunities to future engineers of all skill levels. The VEX IQ program, which is for elementary school students, is the predecessor for robotics competitions at the middle school/high school (VEX EDR) and university (VEX U) levels.

Sandra Leiterman, math specialist in the UA Little Rock Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Educational Center, led the camp. She is the coach of the only VEX U robotics team in Arkansas as well as the coach of two teams at Mills High School.

Leiterman hopes that by introducing students to robotics before junior high school, she will encourage them to pursue STEM-related careers. She also hopes the summer camp will lead to more schools starting robotics teams.

“We thought it would be a great way to introduce robotics to elementary students who don’t have robotics teams at their schools, and it promotes an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education,” Leiterman said. “We hope these students will go back to their teachers and ask them to start robotics teams in their schools.”

Neva Dagtas of Little Rock was excited to attend the camp to learn engineering and robotics skills.

“I like building robots, and I love the way you can control the robots and make it do things autonomously,” Dagtas said.

Dagtas and her team partner, Natalie Tyler, a sixth-grader from Maumelle, said it took a lot of ingenuity and online research to get their robot, which they named Walle Jr., to work.

“We were missing so many parts,” Tyler said. “The chips were different. When we tried to make the controller work, it didn’t.”

Their efforts paid off, as Dagtas and Tyler won the camp’s robotics competition for fifth- and sixth-graders.

“After all the struggles you’ve been through, it’s a really happy moment in your life,” Dagtas said.

Clare Quaid, a Mills High School senior who is a member of an all-girls robotics team coached by Leiterman, was one of 10 high school and UA Little Rock college students who volunteered to introduce the students to the world of robotics.

“Being on a robotics team is very empowering,” said Quaid, who added that she is a distant cousin of actor Dennis Quaid. “At first, I didn’t want to go into a STEM field, but now I see how much girls are needed in STEM fields. Robotics empowered me to make a change.”

Participants included:

  •      Zamari Ball of North Little Rock, fourth-grader at North Little Rock Catholic
  •      Granger Colclasure of Little Rock, third-grader at Episcopal Collegiate
  •      Mia Colclasure of Little Rock, fifth-grader at Episcopal Collegiate
  •      Leonardo Cruz of Little Rock, fourth-grader at Forest Park Elementary
  •      Tristen Cunningham of Little Rock, fifth-grader at Episcopal Collegiate
  •      Neva Dagtas of Little Rock, sixth-grader at Huda Academy
  •      Kaan Dagtas of Little Rock, fourth-grader at Huda Academy
  •      Eric Carmona Garcia of Little Rock, third-grader at Baseline Academy
  •      Tyler Goodman of Jacksonville, sixth-grader at Bayou Meto Elementary
  •      Naia Green of Little Rock, fifth-grader at Christ Lutheran School
  •      DeAndre James of Little Rock, sixth-grader at Meadowcliff Elementary
  •      Amelia Johnson of Bryant, fifth-grader at Springhill Elementary
  •      Kenyon Key of North Little Rock, fourth-grader at Abundant Life School
  •      Connor Lloyd of Little Rock, sixth-grader at Lisa Academy
  •      Christian Mack of Lake Hamilton, fifth-grader at Lake Hamilton Elementary
  •      Fernanda Martinez of North Little Rock, fifth-grader at Lisa Academy North
  •      Vania Martinez of North Little Rock, third-grader at Lisa Academy North
  •      Chloe Mitchell of North Little Rock, third-grader at Arkansas School for the Blind
  •      Mason Mitchell of North Little Rock, sixth-grader at Lakewood Elementary
  •      Alex Moore of Mabelvale, fifth-grader at Davis Elementary
  •      Rafeal Morgan of Little Rock, fourth-grader at Forest Heights STEM Academy
  •      Nam Nguyen of Little Rock, fourth-grader at Forest Park Elementary
  •      Roger Quad of Bigelow, sixth-grader at Anne Watson
  •      Ryker Quaid of Bigelow, fourth-grader at Anne Watson
  •      Nikhil Shanmugam of Little Rock, third-grader at Williams Magnet
  •      Dishant Sharma of Little Rock, sixth-grader at Baker Elementary
  •      Shriish Sathish of Little Rock, third-grader at Chenal Elementary
  •      Davontae Taylor of Lake Hamilton, fourth-grader at Lake Hamilton Elementary
  •      Natalie Tyler of Maumelle, sixth-grader at Pine Forest Elementary
  •      Matthew Wiebelhaus-Brahm of Benton, fourth-grader at Springhill Elementary
  •      Samuel Wiebelhaus-Brahm of Benton, third-grader at Springhill
  •      Bradyn Wilkerson of Bigelow, East End Elementary
  •      Sheriff Wolfe of Little Rock, third-grader at Pulaski Heights Elementary

In the upper right photo, Neva Dagtas (middle) of Little Rock celebrates as her robot, “Walle Jr.,” wins the robotics camp competition for fifth and sixth graders. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UA Little Rock Communications.

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