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Building a strong foundation for future

12/2/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Pratik Patel was a member of a robotics team during his high school days at Salina South.

Little did he know he would be teaching the same thing to youngsters while still high-school age himself.

The 17-year-old Patel, studying in an advanced program for high school students at Fort Hays State University the past year and a half, joined two classmates in putting on a community service event to remember for elementary school students last month.

The enthusiasm of the 40 youngsters brought back good memories for Patel, in his second year attending the Kansas Academy of Math and Science at FHSU.

As part of a project for his global challenges class at Fort Hays, it was Patel's responsibility to help lead the youngsters in their afternoon of exploration into robotics.

But it was obvious Patel and his classmates were enjoying themselves as well.

"It gives them more experience with building, too," said Patel, who was joined by KAMS classmates Adam Stenson from Olathe and Sam Devore from Lyons in heading up the activity.

Students in Shala Mills' global challenges class are required to come up with, and carry out, a community service project centering on one of the seven trends targeted by international studies as global challenges -- population, resources, technology, information, conflict, governance and economic integration.

And the KAMS trio chose technology, focusing on robotics.

"Students do a wide range of things" for their community service project," said Mills, professor of political science. "I was glad to see them choose technology."

The FHSU team advertised the event at the elementary schools in town, and despite a bitterly cold day, the participation was 100 percent.

"Forty signed up, and 40 showed up," Patel said of the overwhelming participation in the MakerSpace in the basement of Forsyth Library.

"I've been to a little Legos competition before," said Derek Eichman, a fifth-grader at Wilson Elementary School. "But it wasn't this complex. I love it."

Eichman and Sam Rider, a classmate of his at Wilson, were working on a robot made out of Legos, trying to synchronize instructions to it from a laptop computer.

"We're trying to make it dance," said Rider, who added, "I love technology."

Younger students kind of hung back and watched as their older counterparts worked with the computer and the robot.

But they still participated in their own way.

Emry Lundy, a fourth-grader at O'Loughlin Elementary, had a useful suggestion as Eichman and Rider tried to figure out how to make the two-wheeled robot more stable.

"You might just need four wheels," she said simply.

Across the room, even students as young as kindergarten were able to dive in and participate more hands-on as Stenson led a rocket-building activity. Fellow KAMS students of Stenson's volunteered to lead groups at stations all around the room.

Even Earl Watkins, a Fort Hays student from Scott City in charge of the MakerSpace, got in on the fun, showing elementary students how to make paper airplanes.

"Neat to see so many people here using (the space)," said Watkins, a physics and electrical engineering major.

Mills agreed.

"It was exciting to see this type of response," she said, "to see how many (youngsters) are interested in" technology.