Mount Olive Ministries’ (MOM) Warriors Robotics team earned first place for Presentation and fifth place ranking in the robot challenge in the Robotics Alliance of Mississippi (RAM) State Competition held December 3, 2011 at Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg.

Coming within three points of taking second place, the Warriors competed against 46 teams for the top position.

Tony C. Duckworth, president of MOM, couldn’t be happier. It has only been a year and a half since Duckworth implemented a Rural Robotics Program (RRP) as a component of MOM. It is also the first time RRP students have entered a competition.

“I am so proud,” says Duckworth. “To see them compete for the first time and walk away with a first place award is phenomenal.”

The Warriors were the only competing team within a 50-mile radius of Hattiesburg.

Hannah Love, an eighth-grader at Mount Olive Attendance Center, Mt. Olive, Miss., was anxious about the competition. Competitors held low expectations of them she said.

“Everyone was telling us that as a first-year team, we would do bad and not place, but we did great,” said Love, 14.

Instructor Ray Holt said the team performed like old pros.

“As a first-year team, I can not imagine them having done better,” says Holt, adding that the teams’ Presentation Award was one of the most difficult for any team to earn due to its criteria.

The team won first place for presenting a food-thematic challenge and solution as a skit.  They ranked fifth place for their construction of a robot programmed to complete specifically designed tasks.

Warriors Jade Lee and Caleb Lee operated the teams’ robot, ToRay, a combination of the first names of Duckworth and Holt, in the competition.

“We practiced almost every day,” said Caleb. “We kept going over and over the mission tasks again and again trying to get it exactly right.”

The best friends’ practice paid off. They are also classmates at Magee Middle School.

“When we stepped up to the table and the timer went off, we were just a little nervous but ready to compete,” said Jade.

Parents and friends attended in support.

“I would not have missed this opportunity,” said Virginia Chase, an executive with the REAL Christian Foundation of Jackson.  “It is exciting to see how we are encouraging and helping educate students.”

Pam Jones, Jade’s grandmother, thinks area businesses should help fund the program.

Two semesters offered each year costs $91,000. Full implementation of the program would cost $217,000 for operational, instructional, equipment, materials, and supplies.

Students pay $150 per semester to help defray the cost of their robot, which can range from $279 to $1100, depending upon the students’ grade level. Duckworth raises as much as he can, even reaching out to out-of-state donors.  However, he has only been able to raise less than a fourth of the cost. Holt doubles his responsibilities as instructor to include tutoring.  Retired prominent businessman, Walter Blain, Sr., a 1961 civil engineering graduate of Louisiana State University, volunteers each week to help Holt lead the program.

“This is a program that opens new doors to learning,” said Jones. “It teaches students science and math skills without boring or intimidating them. I challenge businesses to help fund the program so that even more students can participate.”

Thus far, 42 students from Covington, Simpson and Rankin counties have enrolled in the RRP since its inception in August 2009.

“Charity starts at home,” said Jones.  “If we invest in them, they will reinvest in their community. With additional funding, more students could be led into engineering careers.”

Twenty students and growing each week are on a waiting list, however, their acceptance depends upon funding.

“The ultimate goal is to have a full operating program,” said Duckworth, touting its merits. “Robotics is not just about the competition itself but the knowledge required of the students to even compete to win. Students must have, increase, and utilize their math and science skills.  Robotics places a demand upon them to do so.”

Robotics piques the interest of students whose skills may not be strong in these subjects and inspires them to strengthen their skills in an exciting way.

Pashance Lee, Caleb’s older sister, admits she doesn’t like math, but because of her younger siblings’ involvement and observing the sportsmanship of the competition, she now wants to enroll.

“This is a hands-on activity,” said Pashance, 15.

“I don’t really like math but this appeal to me.  I believe that it can help me as it did my brother and sister and help me improve my grades.”

According to Holt, collectively after their first year, students increased their math scores 4.07 percent and science scores by 2.2 percent.  The top nine participants increased their overall grades by 5.9 percent and their math scores by 2.8 percent. High school students increased their math scores 5.57 percent and their science scores by 8.6 percent.

As part of the RRP, MOM conducts weekly math and science tutoring after school.  Students are also taken to tour college campuses and on educational field trips.

“This program could help make the difference for some students entering a major university or college,” says Jones.

Audarshia Flagg, Caleb’s mother, believes the Department of Education should incorporate robotics into the state’s curriculum.  Flagg recently ran unsuccessfully for superintendent of Simpson County School District.

“This is an awesome avenue through which students can pursue scholarships,” said Flagg. “It is something our children should be exposed to.”

Unfortunately, a lack of awareness and understanding of robotics has limited potential funding and enrollment says Holt.

Robotics is the study of programmable machines, such as in medical, manufacturing, submarine and aircraft equipment design and includes researching, building, programming and testing of machines.  Robotics differs slightly from engineering because it includes the study of all engineering fields.

“I didn’t even know what robotics was and that it was available, especially in our community,” said Misty Ferguson, of Magee. Her son, Jade, told her about MOM’s RRP after Caleb told him.

Duckworth adds that a lack of awareness makes school and community support non-existent.

“To see the convention center filled to capacity primarily with individuals from outside the Pine Belt indicates to me that while robotics is not unheard of, it is unheard of by many parents and students who could benefit,” said Duckworth.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) foundation conducts the robotics competition combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Student teams are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. Inventor Dean Kaman founded the international competition in 1989 in the United States.

Randall T. Hicks, MS FIRST LEGO League Operational Partner, said FIRST works to have a transformative effect on culture so that students who are science and technology “all-stars” are valued as much – or more – than those who participate in athletics or entertainment.

“All students who participate in the program are winners and champions. They are learning skills that will serve them well in an increasingly complex and challenging world,” said Hicks.

The Warriors achievement impressed Hicks.

“The Mt. Olive team had a superb showing to win a major award and also place fifth in the robot competition. This was obviously a very strong outing for a rookie team,” said Hicks.

Duckworth and the Warriors relish their achievement as they look forward to their next competition.

“I like what I have seen thus far,” says Duckworth who has already begun again fundraising for the next semester.  Their efforts to enhance students’ development have not been in vain.

“Their win is the sweet fruit of our labor,” said Duckworth.


Category: Robotics