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Robotics class attracts students

by Merrie Leininger, Staff Writer

One of these kids may create a machine that makes your life easier or even a device that saves your life.

Right now, they are Douglas High School students who will be in the first robotics and electronics class spring semester.

The class was implemented by School-to-Careers Specialist Tricia Wentz and Chuck Schoeffler, who teaches at Western Nevada Community College.

For the past four weeks, the students have been meeting with Schoeffler after school to get started. The class will also be held after school.

The students range from Schoeffler’s son, Ben, 16, a sophomore at DHS, who has been around robots and electronics all his life, to Darla Roberts, 15, a sophomore who heard about the class through Ben and felt that it might be a new direction she could take as an artist.

“I’m into art and I wondered if they would intermingle. So then I could make sculptures that would move,” Darla said.

It’s not that she doesn’t have any interest in electronics.

“In the 4th grade, I rewired a phone. The electric part interested me, too,” she said.

Wentz said the inspiration for the class came from James Ream, a retired electrician who donated equipment. Other equipment will be paid for with grants.

“Then, Chuck, who just moved here from Idaho, came in to see what we offered. At the time, it was an incredible set of circumstances because the school board was saying we needed an electronics class anyway,” Wentz said.

Last Wednesday, Schoeffler brought robots he had built to show the kids.

Students will build their own robots in the class. Schoeffler explained there are many possibilities. The robots, which look like circuit boards attached to wheels , run on batteries. One of the robots has six plastic legs instead of wheels and walks around like an insect. Schoeffler said the students will learn how to program the robotics on computers.

The robots can be bought in kits or the students can design their own.

“It’s been really exciting for me because of the opportunity for the kids,” Schoeffler said. “There is a demand in the community for entry level workers. Just after taking this class, they will be able to make $18 an hour.”

Schoeffler, who has three other children besides Ben – Ashley, a DHS sophomore, Alyssa, a DHS senior, and David, a 6th grader at C.C. Meneley Elementary School – said for most of the students, it’s not the possibility of a good job, but the robots that draw their interest.

“All it takes is the demonstration with these little robots. We went up to Whittell High School the other day and 40 kids signed up. It just hooks them. It’s not anything they can get in any other curriculum,” he said.

The DHS class now has about 10 students signed up. Wentz said she is not sure if the WHS class will begin spring semester, or if all the students who expressed interest will be able to take it immediately.

Schoeffler said the long-term goal is to expose middle and elementary students to the program to and hook them while they are young.

Hopefully, a lot of them will turn out like Skyler Ashdown, 16, a sophomore and a good friend of Ben’s.

“Why did I take this class? The pursuit of knowledge. I like learning new things and am interested in robotics. I want to go to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and study robotics and computer programming,” he said.

Ben said he wasn’t interested in electronics when he was younger, but his father wouldn’t stop showing him the things he was working on.

“He was showing me stuff all the time. I got interested and it’s really fun. I’m always working on 50 different designs and I can’t get it all built. All my friends are doing it,” Ben said.

Brothers Ian, 17, and Graham Chase, 15, are also enrolled in the class and say they have big plans.

“I want to be an engineer and make robots,” Graham said. “Ian and I want to build ones that can walk and have the same features as humans.”

“We are trying to build stuff for ‘Battle Dome,'” Ian said. “That’s where robots duke it out. There are several. I saw one on TV and there is one in Las Vegas.”

John Baughn, 17, is a senior and closer to graduation than most of his classmates. He is more concerned about the future.

“I’m interested in many of the perspectives, not just electronics, but art and the creative side of it,” John said. “I want to build computers. In the real world, it pays good money. “