Annual Robotics Camp a Success | Thomas Nelson Community College

Annual Robotics Camp a Success

August 9, 2019
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Two dozen students attended the annual robotics camp held at Thomas Nelson's Historic Triangle campus last week.

Long before the closing activities for Thomas Nelson’s annual robotics camp at its Historic Triangle campus, many involved were already thinking about next year.

Kyla Wilson, a 12-year-old from Maryland in the area visiting relatives, has attended the past two years and hopes she can make back in 2020.

“I came here last year because my cousin came. I wanted to come back again (this year),” said Kyla, adding an enthusiastic “yes” about her interest in attending a third consecutive time a year from now.

Kyla enjoys programming and robotics, and hopes to work with robots and computers when she gets older. That’s what she liked most about the camp, which was for third- through eighth-graders.

“I get to learn more about programming and robotics,” she said.

Among the projects they did in the free, five-day camp were programming a remote control vehicle to sense color and navigate a pre-determined route. The campers also learned about artificial intelligence, ultrasonic sensors and how to control their devices using a keyboard.

Ayla Xo, a 12-year-old from Williamsburg who is homeschooled, has made this a regular event, too. She has attended every year since the camp started in 2016. She will be too old to attend it next year, but hopes to find a similar program for older students. She enjoyed everything about the camp.

“She likes robotics,” said her father, General Xo.

She’s always been into computers, and would recommend it to friends.

Dr. Patrick Tompkins,  Provost of Thomas Nelson’s Williamsburg campus, also was thinking about next year’s camp. While the numbers were down a little from previous years (24 as compared to a high of 32 last year), he thinks he knows why and already has plans to address that.

“We found out … that James City County was running a free summer camp the same week for the same demographic,” he said.

Still, that didn’t affect the enthusiasm of the students in attendance.

“These kids who are here, and we have one who has been here for three years, they’re loving it,” he said. “They’re getting a lot of value out of it. It’s fun to see them in there with the robots. It’s amazing how quickly they pick that stuff up.”

Tompkins admits it takes a lot of teamwork to put together a camp like this.

We can’t do this without our partners,” he said. “One of the unique things about this camp is that it’s free to students. We’re trying to hit those that are underrepresented in the sciences, so we are happy with the number of those students who are here, and getting them excited about the sciences.”

The sponsors for the camp were Dominion Energy, Kiwanis Club of the Colonial Capital, Rotary Club of the Virginia Peninsula, Virginia Space Grant Consortium, Epsilon Delta Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity and Bank of America. Campers had the option of attending a morning or afternoon session.

As often is the case with activities such as this, the learning extends beyond the classroom.

“It’s not just the educational experience, but the social experience,” Tompkins said. “We bring them in early, do some activities with them, games and things like that. You see that at lunch and break time.”

New this year was a partnership with Black Rocket, a company based in New Jersey that specializes in putting on these types of camps.

“That’s been successful,” Tompkins said. “What’s good about them is that they are experts in summer camps. They’re experts in kids. And they’re experts in curriculum for kids in summer camps. We’ve been really pleased with how that’s turned out.”