IHMC Summer Robotics Camp helps fuel a love of science for students

If Jones Moore grows up to be an engineer, IHMC might be able to take a little credit.

Jones, 12, has been to nearly every Science Saturday session Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition has hosted. This month, he spent his first week at Summer Robotics Camp as a rising eighth-grader. He was one of nearly 40 students who spent a week learning from the best at IHMC’s 2022 summer camp experience.

Jones says the best part of robotics camp was building robots and learning to code.

Robotics Camp is one of IHMC’s signature community outreach efforts for students, which also includes Science Saturdays, a school-year science enrichment program, and school-year field trips. Science Saturday is a series of 90-minute sessions on key topics including computer game design, robotics, roller coasters, butterflies, circuits and more. All are aimed at educating and inspiring the next generation of scientific minds.

Robotics Camp is one of the best times of year at IHMC. It is when the doors open wide — and the next generation of scientists walk through. Instructor Heath Parr, whose day job is as an Escambia County middle school teacher, led some 40 students in grades 8-10 through the basics of robotics, coding, and problem-solving.

Dr. Ursula Schwuttke is the director of educational outreach for both IHMC’s Pensacola and Ocala campuses. She organizes Robotics Camp and the Science Saturday series, which both are meant to spur a love of science in students so that the best and brightest minds are inspired to look for what’s next.

“Fun science gives kids the ability to discover their interest and ability in science, and to develop self-confidence,” says Schwuttke. “Opportunity is vitally important for kids. Without the opportunity to discover their interest, they can’t know that it’s something they should pursue.”

While assembling and programming the robots is of course the fun part, a highlight of camp is the chance to meet and mingle with researchers on the IHMC team. This year, Senior Research Scientist Dr. Jeff Phillips, Research Scientist Dr. Gwen Bryan, and Research Associates Duncan Calvert, Nicole Esposito and Josh Farina all took time out of their schedules to visit with campers, have lunch and share information on their current research, and how they launched their own science careers.

They made a big impression on Jones.

“I think since they had professionals on hand it helped that you could talk to them and learn new things,” said the Pensacola middle schooler.

Robotics Camp is sponsored by Cox, the Escambia Sheriff’s Office, Barnes Insurance, and Florida Blue.  Their support made camp possible and allowed us to include students from the Educational Talent Search Program at Pensacola State College and Pace Center for Girls, to help create a pipeline for IHMC to share what we love about science with students in every corner of the community.

Serving the whole community is an important component of IHMC’s outreach. Schwuttke surveys Science Saturday parents to try to gauge the impact of the sessions. All families report that the sessions boost their children’s scientific curiosity, motivation in science class, enjoyment of science and self-confidence in general. But families whose children qualify for free and reduced-price lunch uniformly report more impact on motivation and self-confidence in science class than other participating families.

“We see that Science Saturdays are impactful for all families, but we see that we continue to make the most difference among families of more limited means — families who might not be able to offer their children the regular experience of hands-on science if our events weren’t free,” Schwuttke said.

Science is about pushing the boundaries of what is known to explore the depths of what is possible. IHMC is proud to have been a small part of that for kids like Jones Moore, and all of the students who have been part of our education outreach efforts. We can’t wait to resume Science Saturdays in the fall — and we hope many more young science enthusiasts out there will join us.

Visit https://www.ihmc.us/life/science_saturdays/ for the most recent updates.

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technology aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. IHMC researchers and staff collaborate extensively with the government, industry and academia to help develop breakthrough technologies. IHMC research partners have included: DARPA, the National Science Foundation, NASA, Army, Navy, Air Force, National Institutes of Health, IBM, Microsoft, Honda, Boeing, Lockheed, and many others.