By Erin Delmore
It’s just about the most fun you can have at a pool without jumping in.
TJ Walters is a sophomore at Stevens. He’s also the waterbotics coordinator for the Boys and Girls Clubs in Wayne and Pequannock, where he teaches fifth- through eighth-graders.
“It’s actually a lot of fun to see the kids working out all the solutions to the problems. Basically, what I do is I give them a problem at the beginning of the day, and then I say, ‘All right, go underwater.’ And then I let them loose,” Walters said.
“The robot we’re making, it’s supposed to grab a ball and take it under water with it,” said 11-year-old Calista Toussas.
The students get into groups and build prototypes that can move forward, backward, up and down.
“This control moves this propeller and the other one moves that propeller,” explained Kaylyn Lee.
“It’s mostly made out of Legos, there’s some electronic parts inside this blue case right here, that obviously run the engine, and they can’t get wet that much so we have to put them in this case,” said Matthew Rascionato.
Then they test out their models.
“It’s dipped inside the pool like, probably like 20 something times a day. A lot of times mostly for tests, a couple times for like competitions like soccer and diffusing bombs,” said Winston Lee.
Score a goal in “soccer” by capturing and moving a ping-pong ball across the pool. To “diffuse a bomb,” turn this cup over.
“When you tip it over, it explodes,” Winston Lee said.
Right now it’s all fun and games, but program administrators say these kids are gaining valuable skills at an early age.
“They’re learning, one, to build, and how to get these to actually run, to do multiple different functions as far as grabbing items, so they play ping pong, they actually play games against each other,” said Kelly Jensen, field administrative assistant of operations at Walmart.
“I didn’t get exposed into robotics until I was in high school, which I regret because I got so into it, and seeing how into it these kids are, it’s amazing to see how much they really just dive into it. It just consumes them. I’m hearing from their counselors, their normal counselors in camp, that they just won’t stop talking about it so being able to expose kids to science, technology, engineering and math so early in their lives, is really important to developing their career choices,” Walters said.
Calista, Kaylyn and Katie say their favorite subject in school is math. While they’re mostly undecided on future jobs, Kaylyn has an idea.
“I might be a doctor or I might be I’m trying to become a, like, work for Google,” she said.
Their instructor says programs like this one can help even out the gender gap in engineering.
“There’s more, newer exciting opportunities to do with programming, computer science is a very, very big field right now, engineering, especially mechanical and industrial engineering, biomedical engineering is very important with the medicinal field, and as you see more of the working class and the assembly line jobs going away, you’re actually going to see a lot more people designing the assembly lines coming in,” Walters said.
The hope is that a program like this will spark interest. One day these future engineers will remember where they got their feet wet.