More than 100 area high school students will put their skills to the test by competing in Joliet Junior College’s 14th annual high school robotics engineering challenge on Friday, Feb. 21 in the T-Building on the Main Campus, 1215 Houbolt Road in Joliet.
Students will work in teams and use creativity, knowledge and JJC’s up-to-date Lego Mindstorms NXT robotic kits to build and program robots. The robotic kit, which is similar to gaming software, has been made available to JJC’s Technical Department thanks to JJC’s Corporate and Community Services, and an Awards for Excellence grant from the JJC Foundation.
Once the student teams have their robots ready, they will practice moving them in different directions and through wooden boards. The public is invited to watch the high school students at work in the T-Building Concourse hallway at this time, between noon and 2 p.m.
When the teams feel prepared, they will go in front of a group of judges who will time them. Whichever team completes the desired tasks in the fastest time will win.
Technical Department Specialist Luann DiMonte said this challenge is a perfect time for high school students to be exposed to JJC.
“This is an outreach activity,” she said. “We want the students to be excited about coming to school here.”
One thing that may spark the interest of these high school students is a new JJC robotics course.
In class, Technical Professor John Koepke is teaching his students key components of electronics, industrial programming, math and physics. His class is made up of mostly engineering and technology-oriented students.
“To say the least, the industry is in need of people with a solid set of technical skills like those exercised in the robotics class,” he said.
Technical Department Chair Greg Pakieser, along with other JJC staff and faculty, toured an automotive plant in Frankfort called ITW TekFast last month. This company uses robotics equipment and plans to expand its machines from 75 to 200 in the next year. ITW TekFast and other companies like it are continually seeing a need for more employees who have knowledge of robotics equipment.
“The trend is that a lot of manufacturing plants are increasing their use of robotics,” Pakieser said. “We are training students so we can make them more marketable for these careers. This new robotics class at JJC will teach students the basic concepts to understand the equipment when they get out in the field.”
The new robotics class was made possible after JJC was awarded a three-part grant in 2012 from the Department of Labor. JJC was one of 21 Illinois community colleges in an education consortium, known as the Illinois Network for Advanced Manufacturing (INAM), to receive the grant. JJC has used the $525,000 grant money on expanding programs that prepare individuals for high growth advanced manufacturing occupations, institute strategies to increase student success, and implement program delivery strategies that ensure student completion.
The Technical Department plans to expand its robotics course in future years.
For more information about the robotics challenge, or to get more information about the robotics class, call the Technical Department at 815-280-2612 or e-mail Pakieser at firstname.lastname@example.org.