Educational attainment

Camdenton hosts 4-H robotics league


Central Missouri hosted some of the state’s finest young minds at the Mid MO FIRST Robotics LEGO League qualifier at Camdenton High School.

University of Missouri Extension Camdenton 4-H Robotics LASER 3284 team members design, build and market robots during the after-school program.

Photo: Camdenton LEGO team member preps a robot for competition.

Safina Earnst, of Camdenton, prepares for the Mid MO FIRST Robotics LEGO League competition.

With a population of 3,200, Camdenton is small, but its school district covers 372 square miles and draws more than 4,000 K-12 students. One in 20 of those students participate in the school district’s internationally recognized For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) program, working with 43 adult mentors and meeting via Skype with industry professionals who challenge and encourage the students.

From kindergarten through third grade, teams build a moving model with LEGO bricks. From fourth through sixth grades, students explore career options and build robots that can perform a series of tasks. In grades seven and eight, students develop an engineering notebook and design robots to compete. In grades nine through 12, students work with engineers to build a 120-pound robot.

Coach Mitch Comer and his wife, after-school program director Sherry Comer, worked with MU Extension’s Camden County 4-H because of 4-H’s longstanding commitment to STEM programs.

All program participants in the past four years are majoring in STEM fields at college. All members are college-bound this year, many with scholarships already in hand.

4-H youth specialist Michele Kroll leads “Fantastic Fridays,” weekly meetings that introduce students to 4-H and other extension programs. Students perform community service for domestic violence shelters, Habitat for Humanity and the Optimist Club, among others. They also learn Gracious Professionalism and Cooperition — an attitude of cooperation, respect and integrity toward competitors.

The program also allows rural students to travel. Members have visited STEM businesses throughout the country and met with legislators in Washington, D.C. They have made more than 60 presentations to promote FIRST and STEM.

Brittany Bolz, a junior at Camdenton, has been in robotics for three years. She has seen Gracious Professionalism in action when robots broke and competitors came to the rescue. She plans to study biological or nuclear engineering.

“4-H has brought me out of my shell,” she said. “It has made me aware that I can do so much more than I thought I could.”

Freshman Brenden Barbour programs robots and scouts other robotics teams. “4-H has taught me leadership skills,” he said.

Senior Garrett Johnson said he has had many scholarship offers and will attend Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla to become a petroleum engineer. Johnson finds it rewarding to mentor younger students at camps and after school.

“Little kids get frustrated, but it’s neat to get to grow with a kid and get them to understand that you have to have downfalls in life to get solutions,” he said.