Quinsigamond Community College Professor Betty Lauer (Professor of Computer Systems Engineering Technology/Coordinator of the Computer Systems Engineering Technology Program/Coordinator of the Computer Information Systems Program,) is someone who is “in the zone” when it comes to helping to students change the trajectory of their lives.
Ms. Lauer has spent the past 16 years working with elementary, middle and high school students quieting and passionately developing an after school robotics program in the Worcester Public Schools (WPS) that is making a difference. Each year Ms. Lauer works with students in the WPS after-school program helping them design and build robots to compete in the VEX Robotics Competition. The program gives students a hands on approach to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and teaches them invaluable lifelong communication, teamwork and leadership skills. Students who have historically been under-represented and under-served are able to become a part of something that oftentimes is transforming, Ms. Lauer said.
The students use the robots they’ve made to play against other teams, performing a set of challenges at local competitions. If students advance far enough, they are invited to compete in the nationals. These competitions are put on by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation. The Vex Robotics Competition currently is in over 40 countries with over a million students competing worldwide.
“WPS doesn’t have a K-12 outreach except for the math club. This is the largest after-school program in the WPS system since 2006. This is a void that we’ve filled,” Ms. Lauer said, adding that this year WPS will take over the elementary school component of the program.
Participants in the WPS program number 600 students (elementary – high school). In past years there’s been over twice that amount. “I’ve seen so many students change their life paths through this program,” she continued.
Ms. Lauer has been involved in this program for close to 16 years, when she first organized a summer outreach robotics program. The program is funded by private organizations that donate money to pay for the VEX robotics kits the students use to build their robots, in addition to food for the students who attend the competitions.
“It’s such a good program but it’s all paid for by outside funding,” Ms. Lauer said, noting that the funding can fluctuate year-to-year as company dynamics change.
QCC has been an integral part of the program since its inception, hosting competitions at its main campus each year. The school has a robotics club and many of the former club presidents come back each year to help out in the competitions. Students who are part of the competition become familiar with QCC and many end up attending the college once they have completed high school.
“Every one of our former robotics club presidents are doing very well,” Ms. Lauer said, noting many who have gone on to four year universities and attained high levels of success in their careers.
On Sunday, January 28, Professor Lauer along, with past and present QCC students, assisted middle and high school students in a day long qualifying competition, named “In the Snow Zone at QCC.” The students spent the day competing against other schools on a 12 ft. x 12 ft. field. Two alliances of two teams competed against each other and used their robot to attain the highest score possible by stacking cones on goals, scoring mobile goals in goal zones, having the highest stacks, and by parking robots.
Dozens of area middle and high school students took part in the day-long event, which saw the winners advance to regional competition, the Southern New England Championship, to be held at QCC on March 3 and March 4.
“It’s such a good opportunity for these students and they learn so many other things,” Ms. Lauer said. “It’s changed the direction of students’ lives.”