Engineering students find value in hands-on learning

Last Updated 31 March, 2016

The Department of Physics and Engineering at Northwest Nazarene University is busy once again giving their students opportunities to take their learning outside the classroom, gain hands-on experience and have some fun too. This time it’s by participating in a VEX Robotics competition.

The VEX Robotics Competition is part of an educational initiative to give students a hands-on way to enhance their knowledge and experience with STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The competition is based on the VEX Robotics components sold by Innovation First International and is available for students from elementary to college level. Students work in teams to collaborate, share ideas and problem solve as they build complex robots with amazing capabilities out of mere parts.

The team, led by Dr. Joshua Griffin, assistant professor of engineering, has been building two robots, which contended against other university teams’ creations at the competition. In this year’s competition, 104 foam balls were placed on the playing field. Two robots from each team raced to pick up the balls and place or toss them into goals placed at different heights around the playing field.

With the entire team having had experience working together on the robotics team previously, there was a great sense of camaraderie amongst members and advisors. On the team’s chemistry, Cole comments, “We have definitely come to see ourselves as a true team. We have learned how each student fits into the team as whole and what each of our strong suits are. We have also learned to respect one another’s input and ideas. As students we have also strengthened our connection with our professors because the robotics program has given us an opportunity to interact with them outside of the classroom setting and in a more team-like manner.”

The NNU Vex Robotics Team has been generously funded by an Informal Education Grant through NASA’s Idaho Space Grant Consortium with matching funds provided by Northwest Nazarene University.

The engineering students on the team see the direct value the project brings to their education as well. Cole says, “I chose to be a part of the VEX Robotics team so that I could get hands-on experience with some of the basic engineering concepts and apply some of those things that I have been learning through my studies here at NNU. In addition to the current benefits, I think that in the future when I am looking for an engineering job, being able to say that I was a part of this team will show a potential employer that I am a team player and that I have some foundational experiences that can be built upon to make me a better employee.”

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