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Saint Mary’s launches new robotics club

| Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Saint Mary’s first year Michelle Lester said she had the idea for Bellebots during an orientation dinner with the school’s president and vice president of mission. When asked about her passion, Lester said she talked about doing robotics in high school.

Lester, founder and president of Bellebots, said she wanted to bring robotics to the College. So she went to Stacie Jeffirs, director of Career Crossings, to launch the now-official club.

“I hope that students are interested and want to be a part of this,” Jeffirs said. “Just show up for a meeting, just check it out — no robotic experience is required.”

Jeffirs joined as the club advisor because of her own daughter’s interest in robotics and her desire to promote STEM fields at the College.

“[I do] whatever I can do to make it happen — anything I can do to encourage women in STEM,” she said.

Jeffirs said nationally, there are fewer robotics teams at the collegiate level than at the high school or middle school levels.

“There are very few robotics teams in Indiana and no all-women’s teams in Indiana,” she said.

The club started small, with three people attending its first meeting in September. As time went on and word began to spread, Bellebots began to grow, Lester said

“There’s 29 on the roster now,” she added.

As an official club, the team can compete with other universities in VEX U tournaments, events where schools compete at regional, national and international levels.

Lester said the teams use their robots to play two-minute games to score points, and the team with the most points at the end of each round wins. Robots have to complete different tasks for each game.

“Teams of two robots compete,” she said. “They play games like jacks.”

Sophomore Noreen Maloney, Bellebots vice president, said the team is still in the beginning stages of the robot-building process.

“We’re still getting our feet off the ground,” she said.

The team is fundraising to buy kits to build robots and sponsor travel to competitions. Jeffirs said if the club raises enough funds, they will be able to get a robot built before competitions begin in February.

While not focusing on their own competitions, the Bellebots mentor the local youth robotics team, the Fire Wires, twice a week.

The Fire Wires is part of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) program, a youth organization that hosts junior robotics events and competitions. The team consists of middle school and high school students.

Maloney said mentoring the group is making her a better leader.

“I think they’re showing lots of promise,” she said.

Jeffirs said the Bellebots mentorship reflects Saint Mary’s values by helping students follow their passions and allowing them to serve others.

“It’s telling of Saint Mary’s student body,” she said.

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