While there are many worthy causes in the world, I have a humble appreciation for what goes into running a nonprofit. In the past several years my family has gone from participating in a local robotics club to helping mentor, and eventually to my husband taking the helm and running the organization. The amount of time and volunteer effort that goes into running a program that caters to 100 middle and high school students is a LOT. There have been some jokes that I’m robotics widow, which isn’t too far from the truth some weeks.
What is STEM?
STEM skills are science, technology, engineering, and math skills. There have been a lot of conversations about STEM skills in the news, and the President has even addressed the need for more STEM skills being taught to students. We all know geek is the new chic, and STEM skills are where it’s at for those of us who love geeking out.
The group my husband runs (and two of my kids participate in) is based on Vex Robotics. If you have younger kids and have seen Hexbugs they are made by the same company.
Every year Vex comes up wit ha new challenge, and the kids have to spend time figuring out how to engineer and program a robot. In competition the kids team up with another team and compete against two other robots. It brings a little bit of collaboration to the competition which makes for an even more interesting game. Here is a brief video of this year’s challenge.
The VEXMEN club meets weekly during the school year, though closer to competitions and Worlds they meet on weekends as well. The club is essentially teams of kids who work together each with a mentor who is a STEM professional to guide them and help answer questions and solve problems with them. This allows the kids to develop real life programming and problem solving skills that they can apply not only to school, but also to their eventual careers in engineering, math, technology, and science.
Watching my own son participate for the last several years has been amazing. He’s not a physical kid, and doesn’t enjoy sports, but this is right up his alley. He’s been able to develop some amazing skills, friendships, and won dozens of awards including awards at the World competition where the kids compete against teams from all over the world including China, Australia, and nearly all 50 states.
It’s not just a club though, there’s also a big community of mentors and roboteers in our local area.Last year we were able to raise awareness and funds for a local team who was trying to go to the World Championship. Their school board was being less than helpful but after news coverage, blog coverage, and people showing up at a school board meeting they were not only able to attend the championship, but raised enough funds to cover their trip and help expand the program this year.
The kids also volunteer their time with local scout troops and schools to share the robots and how they work with kids of all ages.
The VEXMEN are a huge part of our lives and will continue to be for years to come. It’s not only been a huge help to our family, but continues to be a source of learning and skill development for our local community.
To learn more or learn how you can donate visit VEXMEN.com.