The king's subjectS

Reflections by the People of TKA

 

TKA Robotics Leads to Expansion of Engineering Program

TKA is expanding opportunities for students to pursue engineering, within the curriculum and through co-curricular activities. What started with a few parent volunteers shepherding students interested in robotics in an after school program led to the creation of two FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics teams (MidKnight Madness and MidKnight Mahem) plus engineering and robotics courses offered as electives in the junior high and high school curriculums. Moreover, TKA has plans to build a STEAM building with a state-of-the-art “makerspace,” a place where students can design, experiment, build, and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering, and tinkering. To make this vision possible, God has been faithful in providing passionate mentors who are committed to exposing more students to the wonders of robotics and engineering.

TKA Robotics Teams Thrive Under Skilled and Dedicated Mentors

Betsy Atler was determined to bring robotics to TKA so her sons could continue to pursue their passion, and other students might discover a new interest as well. She knew there would be a demand, and indeed, it proved overwhelming. Thus, Atler recruited TKA parent and engineer, Randy Andrews, who has been a mentor to TKA’s robotics since it began in 2014. Both have remained committed to building TKA’s robotics program, even though their children have graduated from TKA.

A proud electrical engineering graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology, Mrs. Atler is currently a Design Controls Engineer at Intuitive Surgical, Inc., who brings fifteen years of marketing and engineering experience from working at Intel. She explains her commitment to robotics: “Robotics programs demonstrate to students what real-world engineering is all about: diagnosing issues, solving problems, selling ideas.”  Mrs. Atler’s dedication to improving many aspects of The King’s Academy experience resulted in an invitation to serve on TKA’s School Board, where she has been a member since 2012.

Mr. Randy Andrews fondly recalled that as a child, he always liked taking stuff apart and trying to make things that worked. As a young adult, he studied mechanical and electrical engineering at MIT. His freshman advisor at MIT was legendary, Woodie Flowers, one of the co-founders of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). Mr. Andrews went on to work at Hewlett Packard's corporate research lab doing robotics. He is the founder of Douloi Automation (1991), where he currently works full-time creating motion control technology.

Mr. Andrews is passionate about “using the creative aspect of God's image that's been given to us,” and having a "Genesis experience where a thought becomes a real creation and a breath (expressed as software with lots of typing) places a humble kind of life into that creation." While mentoring students in robotics, he sees students “move from being tentative and cautious to having the courage to take the initiative and exercise leadership.”  He has enjoyed witnessing the evolution of student robotics competitions. The trend is for the devices to do more on their own as well as being driver-controlled. This robot autonomy requires much more software programming, so students learn both mechanics and software.  “It is a marvel when it all comes together and works! When it doesn’t,” Andrews says, “students must become detectives and problem solvers.” His sense of wonder is evident in the enthusiasm he displays for coaching robotics. In 2017, at the NorCal Regionals tournament, Mr. Andrews won the Compass Award for his outstanding guidance and support. 

This fall, a new mentor on the scene, Annette Lane, began teaching Robotics Engineering and Programming to junior high students, as well as Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Introduction to Engineering Design to high school students. Mrs. Lane earned her BS from the University of Puerto Rico and has extensive knowledge and expertise in robotics and engineering. A long-time industry professional with fourteen years at IBM, Mrs. Lane developed the Valley Christian technology curriculum and then started VC’s robotics program in 2004 with two junior high FIRST robotics teams. After retiring, with fourteen years of service at Valley Christian, Mrs. Lane got a call from Mrs. Atler, whom she had met through robotics competitions. In fact, when starting TKA’s robotics, Mrs. Atler sought out Mrs. Lane as a mentor. Mrs. Atler informed her that TKA had been praying for a robotics/engineering teacher. God had answered prayers!

Mrs. Lane is inspired to “bring kids to Christ through robotics” and to “teach students organization, business, teamwork, focus, graphic design, inventory systems, machine shop and more, so they can have a career in whatever field they choose.”  She stresses to students that “excellence is never achieved, only pursued. The goal is to get better every day. In Christ, we achieve perfection only when we die.”

Mrs. Lane’s vision for TKA is eventually to have one FIRST Lego League Team (FLL), one or two FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) teams, and a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team. 

Student Impact

One example of the impact of TKA robotics can be found in Andrew Hartley (11th grade). Andrew secured an internship last summer with OhmniLabs (a 3D printer robotics company) after learning about it on a field trip with the robotics team. Andrew wrote his mentors to tell them about his summer: 

The skills I have learned from robotics have been extremely helpful at work, from presenting ideas to rapid prototyping and quick solutions. Communication with teammates has proven to be very important. During robotics, the meetings in which we established our objectives for the day are similar to the quick, objective engineering meeting every morning at work. My last project this summer has been designing and building a machine that can paint its own paintings. This has been my favorite project as it has required me to reach out for lots of help as I am not experienced with AI. To me, it has been a dream summer, and every day I think about how the skills we learned in robotics perfectly prepared me for my internship. I am so grateful that we have a robotics program at school, and I am very excited for another season with the team.

Another example is Cassidy French, Class of 2016. According to Atler, Cassidy was “our first business operations manager” during the first two years the team existed. She also contributed to hardware as she gained confidence. Cassidy decided to minor in IT, along with pursuing a business degree at Grand Canyon University (Phoenix, AZ) and credited her experience with TKA robotics for that decision. 

Corporate Sponsors

The majority of the Robotics budget comes from individual and corporate donations, including company matching gifts for volunteer hours.

The following companies have provided either financial or material donations, and TKA is very grateful for their generous support:  Intuitive Surgical, Inc., Google, Douloi Automation, Adobe, Intel, LinkedIn

For More Information

To learn more about TKA robotics, including details about the design process and each season’s results, please visit the robotics webpages at www.tka.org/robotics.  For questions email robotics@tka.org

Kriss Hayward, Director of Marketing & Communications

Posted by Mrs. Kriss Hayward on Thursday January, 16 at 11:03AM

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