Seeing the future: Kids get high-tech, hands-on lessons

The robot swiveled right, wheeled at an angle then fired the dodgeball at its human counterpart.

Another robot spun a multi-colored Rubik’s cube, deftly solving it in a matter of seconds. A crowd of young students and their parents watched, listening to members of Center Grove High School’s Red Alert Robotics explain how they built and programmed the device.

Elsewhere, they learned about how advancements in engine design made driving more environmentally friendly. They discovered how radar could be used to measure minute and precise amounts of gas or liquid.

Robotics, energy-efficient engines and global information systems were just a few of the disciplines on display Thursday night at Endress+Hauser’s Greenwood facility. The company hosted its third annual Community Career+Education Forum, introducing students, parents and educators to the varied careers in modern manufacturing that require science, technology, engineering and math skills.

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The event was a one-stop shop for children in grades seven through nine to discover college opportunities, potential careers and extraordinary applications to the four main STEM components.

“We still have a lot of people around the country who don’t know what manufacturing looks like today. So having this forum, we can redefine and put a new image in people’s minds about what that is, about what cool opportunities exist,” said Brandyn Ferguson, vice president of human resources for Endress+Hauser. “We want to expose them to the breadth of career options.”

The event was founded in 2014 as a way to help schools, students and their families learn what skills employers are looking for in their workers, Ferguson said.

Endress+Hauser partnered with Central Nine Career Center and Aspire Johnson County to create the forum. Robotics teams from school districts such as Greenwood, Indian Creek, Southport and Perry Meridian demonstrated their skills at building and operating the machines.

For Southport Middle School eighth-grader Isaac Mayer and his brother, sixth-grader Sam Mayer, the robotics were the best part.

“I like seeing how everything works, the mechanical aspect of it and how it all fits together,” Isaac said.

While the forum offered a chance to wow people with their robot’s abilities, it was also a good opportunity to offer some guidance to younger students unsure of getting involved.

“When I first joined a robotics team, I was a little bit intimidated. I thought it would be all about robots and engineering,” said Emma Franco, a senior at Center Grove. “But the seniors and upperclassmen taught me that it’s OK to have a passion about other parts of this and still be involved. That’s what we want to do here.”

Other manufacturers from around the county were invited to share the types of jobs they offer, and interactive demonstrations showcased how science and math were used in modern industry.

Displays showed that manufacturing isn’t simply standing on your feet nine hours a day at a conveyor belt, doing the same repetitive job.

“Parents can be assured that if their kids stay local, whether they go do college or not, they can have good benefits, good pay, good environment,” Ferguson said. “More and more, we hear that kids in this generation want to do something that really matters and contributes to society. That’s what our whole business is doing, and we want people like that.”

Companies such as Cummins, Duke Energy and NSK Corp. all had booths explaining how STEM is used in their companies to make breakthroughs, such as energy-efficient equipment and automated assembly lines.

Schools such as Franklin College and Ivy Tech Community College helped students and parents learn a little more about technology programs that could lead to working in these careers.

Community groups from the Greenwood Public Library and Johnson County Public Library enticed kids with experiments with electricity and magnetic slime while handing out information on their science and math clubs.

The wealth of information made it a perfect place for someone such as Brianna Green, a sixth-grader at Clark-Pleasant Middle School.

“I’m interested in engineering. I want to be an architect, so there’s a lot here to see,” she said.

She came to the forum with her father, Brandon Short, to learn more about his work as an engineer. Together, they poked around Endress+Hauser’s process training unit, a practice module that the company uses to train its engineers and instrument technicians.

They took part in a science scavenger hunt to solve formulas, decipher clues and complete science and math exercises.

They had to search the different digital displays and gauges to find amounts of gas or liquid passing through the sensors. The machine simulated the precise measurements Endress+Hauser’s equipment uses to make everything from soda to suntan lotion.

Others that weren’t so sure about their career paths also found much to think about.

Cameron Zorlu, a seventh-grader at Center Grove Middle School Central, came to the forum to learn more about what science- and math-based disciplines have to offer. His father is an engineer, and encouraged him to look into STEM programs.

His main interest had been in the sciences. He had participated in his school’s science fairs in the past, and enjoyed creating projects using physics and chemistry.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, so this was a way to see,” Cameron said.

Much of the event was organized to show that science and math can be fun.

At the STEM Studio, students can try on lab coats and safety goggles and record a video presentation on what they love about science, technology, engineering or math. At an exhibit called “What Is Your STEM Power?” students ask themselves what their favorite branch of learning is.

“We didn’t want to make it just walking around from one table to the next, getting literature and then leaving. We have them engage interactively,” Ferguson said.