IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Students from Howe, Arco, and Mackay are proving there’s as much emphasis on technology as there is in tractors in these rural Idaho farming communities.
A large portion of this area of some 3,000 residents is adjacent to the 890 square miles that forms the EM's Idaho Site. Agriculture is the area’s primary industry, but thanks in part to grants from EM cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho, local students are learning about the technologies key to the national laboratory they share a border with.
This growing interest in technology is evident in students like Mackay High School senior Nathan Hampton. A member of the Custer County 4-H Club, Hampton wrote a grant request to purchase materials to develop a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) project based on robotics.
“STEM related projects under 4-H allow for members to pursue interests outside of the traditional livestock and food science curriculum,” Nathan said. “I personally believe that the 4-H program provides a unique pathway of learning that can reach youth in a different, but complementary, way to traditional STEM classroom curriculum.”
Hampton helped members of the neighboring Butte County 4-H Club submit a similar grant request to aid in the growth of their robotics program.
Fluor Idaho funded both requests, enabling the Custer County 4-H program to develop new STEM curriculum and the Butte County 4-H program to expand its budding 4-H robotics program.
Using robot kits purchased with the Fluor Idaho grant, students from Howe, Arco, and Mackay formed a robotics team last year to compete in the FIRST LEGO League, an international robotics competition in February designed to ignite STEM enthusiasm among young people.
For five months the students met two to three times a week to prepare for the competition involving 45 teams. This included performing research, developing presentations, and designing, building, and programming their robot. Their hard work paid off as the Butte County 4-H Team tied for third place in the robotic portion of the competition, just five points behind the first-place team.