Governor visits Kaua‘i: Lingle praises Chiefess Middle’s robotics program

PUHI — Gov. Linda Lingle entered the spacious library at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School yesterday morning as 31 beginning and advanced robotics students patiently waited with robots ready and leis in hand.

The governor recognized teachers Brenda Carvalho and Denice Sheffer, who created a middle school science program, for their student’s achievements and outstanding contribution to the future.

Chiefess is one of five Kaua‘i schools to explore robotics and take on the exciting and hands-on science education that robot building and programming offers students. Kula High/Intermediate, Kapa‘a Middle, Kaua‘i High and Island School have also promoted technology and science on the island.

Sheffer, a spokesperson for the program, is passionate about the importance of introducing this discipline to students as early as possible.

“I am really focused on this, but our children think that the best career they can have on Kaua‘i is to be a bus driver or construction worker,” she said. “They don’t see that the world is their oyster and that they can actually still live here on beautiful Kaua‘i and have great jobs in technology.”

Lingle has taken a great interest in the Botball educational competition and attended the recent regional competition in April, which included more than 400 students representing every island in the state. The program, according to Botball’s Web site, challenges middle and high school students to “design, build, and program two mobile, autonomous robots that work together during the regional tournament to score points for the team.

Sheffer said she, Carvalho and Chiefess Middle feel very fortunate to have been chosen as a stop on the governor’s busy schedule.

“I thought she would also be going to the other schools,” Sheffer said, “but then we found out we would hold the banner for all Kaua‘i’s talented robotics students. We are very proud and thankful she could come. It’s a boost for every student in robotics on Kaua‘i.”

Yesterday, students greeted the governor and answered questions about their interest and involvement in the program.

“I am so excited to be here with you,” Lingle said. “We are encouraging robotics for schools throughout the state not because you all will grow up to design robots, but I believe the skills you learn here can be used in many fields and will help solve future problems that affect our society.”

Lingle was pleased to hear from students such as Zack Silva.

“I won’t name names, but a friend of mine kind of pushed me into the class,” Silva said. “But I’m so glad because it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learned things I never thought I would.” Silva later showed Lingle the Kitty Cat Robot named ‘Felix’ that he and team-mate Brandon Elwin designed in beginning robotics.

“We want you to talk about your experience and tell your friends, encourage them to sign up for the class next time — the more you share with your friends, the more other students will get involved,” Lingle said.

By show of hands, nearly half the class expressed an interest in pursuing a future in science or technology. Sheffer is convinced that this type of exposure and hands-on learning will affect students’ choices later in their academic careers and provide opportunities that they wouldn’t have thought possible.

Later, Lingle talked to five female students, who were outnumbered by their male classmates. She encouraged the young women to pursue science education further.

“This isn’t about just building robots. The more you learn, the more choices you will have in the future,” she said.

A student chimed in, “It also gives you more perspective.”

Looking over the menagerie built by the beginning robotics class, Lingle noted the theme across the projects: animals such as birds, chickens and cats.

While some of the robots had run out of batteries or had malfunctioned, Lingle used the opportunity to relate the story of how the light bulb was invented.

“Does anyone know how many attempts were made to make a light bulb? Hundreds. Stick with it,” she said. “Right now you may be making toys and fun stuff, when later you could actually invent something that changes people’s lives, and helps our world. You students will be the ones who will solve the future problems of our planet.”

With the upcoming national tournament July 9 to 13, the students are still busy working on their designs. The financial sponsorship of Lockheed Martin will allow the entire class to fly to Honolulu for the event, Sheffer said.

The students will have an opportunity to compete with others from the United States and Japan. In addition to building an autonomous robot, the class must give an oral presentation to the judges at the competition.

Thirty-seven teams from 36 Hawaiian schools will be eligible to attend this year’s conference.

Jeff Connelly, representing Lockheed Martin during the governor’s visit, said, “We firmly believe in scientific education for our youth. This is the initial wave of trying to get our kids really involved, learning science in an interactive and fun environment turns them on to the possibilities in this wide field.”

• Keya Keita, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 or kkeita@kauaipubco.com.


Want to see these rockin’ robots?

Who: Students from Kula High/Intermediate, Kapa‘a Middle, Chiefess, Island School and Kaua‘i High

What: Kaua‘i’s own robot competition

When: June 9 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Where: Kukui Grove Shopping Center

Everyone is invited to support the future scientists of our island.

The 2007 Kaua‘i Bot ‘Ohana Tournament is sponsored by Kaua‘i Economic Development Board and Lockheed Martin.

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