First Blugold Beginnings robotics competition set for Saturday

| Judy Berthiaume

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Blugold Beginnings program and the Eau Claire Area School District will host the inaugural regional Wisconsin FIRST Lego League robotics competition.

The first-of-its-kind event will run from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at DeLong Middle School in Eau Claire.

Twenty-six youth teams from around Wisconsin will participate in the competition, with each team including up to 10 students in grades 4-8.

Eleven of the participating teams are from the Chippewa Valley, including teams from the Boys & Girls Club in Menomonie, and South and DeLong middle schools in Eau Claire. The local teams are coached by Blugold Beginnings student mentors from UW-Eau Claire.

Guided by two or more adult coaches, each team will research the real-world problem of long-term space travel. They then will be challenged to develop a solution to address the problem.

Teams must design, build and program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS. They then will compete on a table-top playing field.

“It all adds up to tons of fun while they learn to solve a problem by applying science, technology, engineering and math concepts, plus a big dose of imagination,” says Jodi Thesing-Ritter, UW-Eau Claire’s executive director for diversity and inclusion. “Along their journey, they develop critical thinking and team-building skills, and basic STEM applications, as well as presentation skills since they must present their solutions — with a dash of creativity — to judges. They also will practice the program’s core values, which emphasize discovery, teamwork and good sportsmanship.”

Saturday’s event will be the first regional robotics competition hosted by Blugold Beginnings.

The Blugold Beginnings program has been building support for its robotics program through pilot after-school programming for the last five years. The pilot program began with students in one local school, but has grown this year to include more than 10 area schools.

Abe Mamou, a Blugold Beginnings robotics intern and mentor, is excited to help bring to life the first Blugold Beginnings robotics competition.

“It has been amazing to work with Blugold Beginnings robotics since I was a freshman and see the program grow to the point where we can host our own regional FIRST competition,” Mamou says. “It is incredible to see students learn how to design, program and problem-solve. It’s great to watch students work together and compete at the robotics competitions.”

The robotics program is an initiative that UW-Eau Claire hopes will encourage more youth to consider careers in STEM fields, Thesing-Ritter says.

“UW-Eau Claire is working diligently to decrease the opportunity gap in STEM fields,” Thesing-Ritter says. “We are proud of the work of our UW-Eau Claire student mentors, our ECASD and Menomonie middle schools, Boys & Girls Club partners, and area businesses and foundations that have prepared us to host our first competition.

“The future of STEM programming is bright in the Chippewa Valley thanks to this collective leadership and support.”

UW-Eau Claire’s Blugold Beginnings program works to educate and inspire students, especially underrepresented, low-income or first-generation students, to believe that a post-secondary education is important, attainable and available to them. Blugold Beginnings offers a variety of programs and services to promote a college-going culture and to help students obtain higher education.

Area businesses and organizations that have supported Blugolds Beginnings robotics include Northwestern Bank, 3M Gives, the Otto Bremer Trust, Lasker Jewelers, Jamf Software, TTM Technologies, Charter Bank, Eau Claire Sport Warehouse, TDK Hutchinson Technology Inc. and Eau Claire County Extension 4-H Youth Development.

The Dec. 1 event is open to the public.

For more information, contact Jodi Thesing-Ritter at thesinjm@uwec.edu or 715-828-7221.

Photo caption: Blugold Beginnings mentors have worked with students in 10 area schools in recent years to encourage interest in robotics.