Robotics work on display from gifted students

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By Alex Wimsatt

 MOUNT WASHINGTON - As robotics engineering has become increasingly popular among middle and high school students nationwide, Mount Washington finds itself playing host to one of the biggest robotics tournaments in Kentucky. 

Since the Engineers of Tomorrow FIRST LEGO League Regional Tournament began six years ago the annual event has called Bullitt County its home. 

And for the first time in the tournament’s history, Bullitt East High School recently hosted the 2012 event, which had previously been held at Mount Washington Middle School. 

Mount Washington resident David Echsner, who coordinates the annual event, said it was because Bullitt County Public Schools has embraced robotics as a beneficial extracurricular activity that the tournament has remained in Bullitt County.

The competition, which had less than a dozen teams participate its first year, drew a record-breaking 1,500 people representing 41 teams spanning from Owensboro to Lexington.

Three Eastside Middle School teams, a Mount Washington Middle School team and a home-school team made up the Bullitt County delegation. 

Teams from the greater Louisville Metro area, including Bullitt County, had the most significant presence at the competition.

The Oldham County-based Engineers of Tomorrow Team 2783, comprised of high school-age students from Oldham, Jefferson, Shelby, Henry, and Bullitt counties, co-sponsored the event with FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, a nonprofit organization that promotes competitions for students ranging from kindergartners to high schoolers.

Echsner, who coaches the Engineers of Tomorrow, called robotics programs like those that attended the regional tournament “priceless.”

Echsner said they not only provide tech-savvy students a fun outlet for their talents, but they encourage interest in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics or S.T.E.M. 

For example, Echsner said during one recent semester six of the Engineers of Tomorrow’s graduating seniors went on to graduate college with degrees in the field of engineering. 

What’s more, five of these six received full scholarships for higher education out of high school. 

“S.T.E.M., college and career readiness, it all circles back to programs school districts and the Kentucky education system are encouraging,” he said. 

Bullitt East principal Willie Foster said he was thrilled for the Charger Nation to host the regional tournament, especially considering how well competitive robotics engineering has been shown to promote S.T.E.M. education.

Asked what he felt was the significance of the record number of participants in the 2012 regional tournament, Echsner said, “It tells me we’re doing a lot of things right and that more students are becoming interested in engineering.”

The day-long competition, themed “Senior Solutions,” required teams to build LEGO robots that ran on four-foot by eight-foot tables. 

Participants earned points for programming their robots to perform as many themed tasks as possible within two and a half minutes.  

The teams with the most points will go on to compete in the state tournament, which will be held at Western Kentucky University in January.