The Upper Midwest Regional VEX Robotics Tournament was held a few weeks ago at Xavier High School. This tournament was the state’s largest competitive robotics event, and the sheer energy and excitement of the participants was astounding. And this was just one of many robotics competitions that are happening across the country this year.

Robotics and autonomous machines are one of the most rapidly growing fields today, and as technology improves more new kinds of robots are being invented for all kinds of practical, commercial and military purposes. With such a rapidly changing and exciting technology, it is no wonder that students across the country cannot seem to get enough. An explosion in the popularity of high school robotics teams is sweeping the nation, with thousands of students participating on competitive robotics teams. No other sport or activity is growing as quickly.

At these events school teams compete by building robots to perform specific tasks like shooting basketballs or throwing Frisbees to see which ones perform best.

The competition is not only educational, but it is also a fun way to get involved in real-world engineering as a student. Volunteer professional mentors, who recognize the importance of science and math extracurricular activities for our youth, lend their time and talents to guide each team from the start on through the competitions.

These tournaments combine the excitement of sports with the rigors of science and technology.

The VEX Robotics competitions, like the one recently held at Xavier, are managed by the REC Foundation, a nonprofit organization that strives to inspire and motivate students to advance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by engaging them in hands-on, affordable robotics engineering programs. The competitions are becoming quite popular with over 7,000 teams right now, and are on target to grow by over 30 percent this year.

Competitive robotics is an effective tool to engage and impact our students. They not only enjoy the hands-on learning approach, but are also learning more the value of education.
Companies are helping robotics grow by sponsoring and mentoring teams, and volunteering at events. Some of these participating companies have found it makes sense to fill summer internship positions with students they have mentored, knowing the work quality they are capable of delivering.

Robotics learning programs have never been better. What’s next? One idea locally to keep things growing is to create a community robotics center that could support those creative youth who do not have access to the program at their schools. The idea would be to provide equipment and instruction on how to build and program a quality robot, and could serve as a facility for teams to practice.

Thanks to all the robotics team teachers, volunteers and sponsors for helping illuminate another positive pathway for our youth.

The possibilities are exciting, and fulfilling.

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