Millikin students developing programs to make robotics more accessible
Before coming to Millikin University, neither Jayme Reed, Class of 2022, nor Brian Freeman, Class of 2023 had much experience with robotics, but after joining Millikin's competitive robotics club, Blue Bots, they are both working on projects to share what they've learned and to bring robotics to students of all ages. This summer, as part of their undergraduate research fellowships, Jayme and Brian are developing programs to reach students all the way from Kindergarten to college for the purpose of making robotics and computer science more accessible.
Jayme, a mathematics and secondary education major from Atlanta, Ill., is developing an honors seminar in robotics specifically for fellow students at Millikin. "This is an opportunity to create an honor's course specifically for programming, which is not readily available right now at Millikin," Jayme said, discussing the honors syllabus she is writing. "This can encourage non-computer science and math majors to take a class to learn about programming," she added.
Brian is hoping to introduce robotics and STEM content to a younger audience with his research project. A data science major from Crystal Lake, Ill., Brian is creating a K-12 outreach program intended to bring computer science and robotics to local schools. "I'm making classes for students who might not have much computer science background so they can learn the basics. I want to show them things they can easily access, like programming with a TI-84 calculator and how to build a small robot and program it to drive," Brian explained.
Both students are actively involved in Blue Bots, Millikin's intercollegiate robotics team that competes in a variety of competitions against other schools through VEX U. Though Blue Bots is primarily a computer science-focused student organization, all majors are welcome to join. The team has roles to fit all skill sets, from decorating the meeting room and social media, to programming, designing and building the robots.
Jayme participates by building and programming robots while also building a social media presence for Blue Bots. Brian designs and builds the team's robots, occasionally reverse to engineering unique programs and hardware from other teams they have met during competition. "It is both fun and frustrating when we can't figure something out and then try to engineer our own version of the program. It brings opportunities that you don't get in the regular classroom," Jayme commented.
Through her involvement with Blue Bots, Jayme says that she has developed skills and earned credentials to help her accomplish her future career goals. "Dr. [Dan] Miller had us complete a program through VEX to obtain teacher certification for professional development, so now Brian and I are qualified to teach the VEX coding program, which is helpful for me since I plan to be a high school math teacher," Jayme explained, adding that after teaching for a few years she hopes to earn her Ph.D.
Brian said that working with Blue Bots has benefited him beyond learning how to program using different programming languages. "It has helped me work with people and improve how I communicate with them," he said. Following graduation, Brian plans to continue studying and working within data science, aiming to work with companies to identify important data to help them make effective business decisions.
In June, Jayme and Brian represented Millikin while they attended a VEX global competition, bringing along two robots they had designed, built and programmed.