Early last September, Joe Shepard sat parked in his car outside Chemeketa Winema watching as backhoes hauled furniture and debris from the abyss.
He was interviewing to be the instructor for Winema’s newly minted Robotics program all while witnessing the transformation of Building 51 – dubbed ‘the abyss’ by staff – from a dingy surplus storage area to a hands-on learning environment for high school students.
Vision, advocates and months of hard work from facilities turned the pipe dream into a possibility and Chemeketa Winema is now well on its way to supporting students interested in engineering, manufacturing, prototyping and product development and design.
“There is now a pathway for Winema students to enter career tech programs at Chemeketa,” says Susan Murray, Executive Dean of Academic Progress and Regional Education Services. “We are so appreciative and have so many people to thank.”
Joe praises the Robotics program for helping students not only learn problem solving, teamwork and creativity, but for igniting a passion for learning. “These students say ‘I’m here to get this done’.”
“There are many plusses to this program,” mirrors Abby Hoffar, Dean of High School Partnerships. “Students have to work on design and assembly as a team. There’s brainstorming and dissonance, and they have to work it out together so the program is teaching soft skills too.”
“And they are really proud of their accomplishments,” she says.
Four students who’ve risen to the role of team leaders for Winema’s robotics team, the Winema Wattmasters, demonstrated their VEX creations for Chemeketa’s Board of Education, staff and program supporters at the Robotics Open House on May 18.
VEX is a highly regarded international STEM activity for middle and high school students that releases a new parts kit and engineering challenge game each year.
The Wattmasters, along with teams from Dallas, West, South and North Salem highs and the Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School, will start developing robots based on the 16-17 VEX kit and challenge game starting in September and take to the road for weekend tournaments mid-November.
To level the playing field, Winema plans to host 2-3 teams on weekdays for area students who can’t travel out of town on weekends.
Winema Robotics has many additional goals for the future, including—
- Organize the College’s robotic teams
- Develop a maker lab that includes 3D printing, laser cutter and machinery to work with iron, aluminum, vinyl and wood
- Develop a CADD lab
- Use robotics to experiment with innovative horticulture and agriculture techniques
- Host a VEX Robotics State Championship
For now, students will enjoy a wide variety of experiential opportunities to foster and support their imagination, innovation and ability to collaborate. Abby adds, “What could be better for their education, workforce or life?”