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Bellebots looks forward to upcoming year

| Thursday, September 20, 2018

Bellebots, the Saint Mary’s robotics club, is looking forward to a year of growth, teaching and competing.

Having formed just two years ago, the club is looking for ways to expand its presence on campus, Bellebots vice president and senior Noreen Maloney said.

“We’re still kind of discerning our niche,” she said. “We’re always adapting to what we need to do to be really relevant on campus.”

Finding a place for an interest in STEM was how Bellebots began. The group’s president and founder, junior Michelle Lester, said robotics was something in which she wanted to participate when she started her first year at the College.

“When I got to campus, I wanted to start something that had to do with robotics,” Lester said.

With this in mind, she found a faculty member to serve as an advisor for the group she wanted to start. Lester said Bellebots began with sending a survey to students to gauge the student body’s interest in such a club. Upon receiving positive responses, Lester’s desire started becoming a reality.

Last year, Bellebots worked primarily with local high school robotics teams to help them prepare for competitions, Maloney said. Additionally, the group worked on gaining members and fundraising for future endeavors. This year, however, Bellebots wishes to compete.

“The program we want to do is called VEX U, and they release a new game every year,” Lester said. “It’s always changing.”

This annual change is what makes the program enticing to the group, as it allows members to work on more than just maintenance of robots between competitions, Lester said. Instead it would create opportunity for the team to use various skills on projects.

Competitions such as VEX U have a registration fee, and Lester said Bellebots has already been fundraising this semester for this purpose.

“Doing an actual robotics team is very expensive, so we need to make money … to be able to feel comfortable sending in that registration check,” she said.

In addition to having a robotics team, Bellebots also wishes to help people learn and hone other STEM-related skills, Maloney said.

“We want to be encouraging to STEM literacy and twenty-first century skills on campus,” Maloney said.

Basic computer programming is among the skills the group intends to teach those who are interested. Lester said the ability to work on websites is useful for careers in many fields, not just STEM.

“We want to have nights where we talk about STEM skills but in the sense that you could integrate them into your everyday life,” Maloney said. “We’re hoping that as a team, we’ll do somewhat occasional nights that focus on these skills.”

The goal of these nights would be to introduce students to these skills and then provide them with the resources to develop them, she said. These nights would enable students to determine if such STEM skills are what they want or need to learn.

“We try to be as inclusive as possible,” Maloney said. “No STEM required.”

Lester and Maloney said they know some students might be intimidated by things like computer programming and robotics but do not want that to keep people from joining.

“We definitely want to start with stuff that’s not scary to people,” Lester said.

Maloney said the club has a strong leadership team that is willing to teach people who might be intimidated by robotics but is also interesting in acquiring members with skills in other disciplines to help with other aspects of robotics competitions, such as brochure design and safety.

Bellebots is open to all members of the tri-campus community. The next Bellebots meeting will take place Sept. 26 at 9:30 p.m. in 140 Spes Unica Hall.

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