Since last October, sixteen students from Allendale County have been meeting at least one afternoon each week, working on a solution to a weather-related disaster. As a part of the global FIRST LEGO League, they researched tornados, designed a presentation, wrote a rap song about their project, and built and programmed a robot. On Saturday, January 11, at six o’clock in the morning, they departed from Allendale on a school bus, headed to Lexington, SC, to present their project and compete against twenty-seven other teams.

Twelve hours later, this team (named “Robot Maniacs”) returned to Allendale as champions, having earned a first place trophy for the category of Core Values. Additionally, since they placed among the top seven teams at the qualifying event, they earned a ticket to the state tournament next month.

In the Core Values presentation, the team explained to the judges how they demonstrated character and leadership traits, such as Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition. Gracious Professionalism is “a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.” Coopertition is the idea of constantly learning and helping others to learn, even while competing.

Most of the team members are 4th and 5th graders at Allendale Elementary School. As such, they were younger than most teams that they competed against. In the process of emerging as champions, they came a long way, not just in the distance travelled to the competition, but also in all that they had to learn about the FIRST LEGO League program.

The state tournament will be on February 15, at River Bluff High School (Lexington, SC). The coach of the team is Ms. Ashley Roberts, 5th grade teacher at Allendale Elementary School. The co-coach is Mrs. Joanna Espinosa, parent and Allendale resident.

The vision of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” Each year, more than 200,000 students from 80 countries compete in the LEGO League, which is the FIRST program geared towards 4th – 8th graders. You can learn more about this program at www.usfirst.org.

This program in Allendale was made possible by a grant from FIRST LEGO League, and from an ANSR (Advancing Nuclear Skills Regionally) grant through the Department of Energy. Additional funding came from SRSCRO Nuclear Workforce Initiative.

Joey Espinosa, STEM Workforce Development Coordinator at USC Salkehatchie’s Leadership Institute, has been working to increase the pipeline of students who are pursuing careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics). Besides helping to launch the FIRST LEGO League team in Allendale, he has also helped to lead STEM-focused summer day camps and a chess club. Through this coordinator position, USC Salkehatchie continues to demonstrate its commitment to this community and its K-12 students, and works to ensure that local students have opportunities to engage in fun and educational activities, especially in STEM-related areas.

The SRS Community Reuse Organization (SRSCRO) is a non-profit regional group focused on supporting job creation in a five-county region of South Carolina and Georgia, including Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties in South Carolina and Richmond (Augusta) and Columbia counties in Georgia. The group’s mission is to facilitate economic development opportunities associated with Savannah River Site technology, capabilities and missions and to serve as an informed, unified community voice for the two-state region.

The Nuclear Workforce Initiative (NWI®) was created by the SRS Community Reuse Organization (SRSCRO) to provide a well-trained and highly qualified workforce that meets the ongoing needs of the nuclear industry in this region. The NWI® seeks to promote and expand nuclear workforce development capabilities by facilitating integrated partnerships between nuclear employers and educational and training entities that foster regional educational attainment, economic growth and job opportunities.