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Macon County 4-H’ers killing it in robotics

Macon County 4-H'ers killing it in robotics

Think 4-H is all about baking cakes and showing cattle? Welcome to the 2020s, when even America’s oldest youth organization is betting on innovation.

And the Macon County 4-H program, provided through the University of Illinois Extension, is doing a bang-up job representing at the state level. In late January, the younger members of the Macon County 4-H SCREAM Team received the robot design award for Strategy and Innovation and finished 9th out of the 54 teams competing in robot performance at the FIRST LEGO League Hopper division’s state tournament in Elgin.

In the FIRST LEGO League competition, kids under the guidance of adult coaches develop solutions for real-world problems by designing, building and programming a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS technology. This year’s theme was City Shaper, so problems needed to be related to a public space or building in the community.

4-H SCREAM cultured water fountains in the Decatur area and found that immunosuppressed individuals who used these fountains risked getting sick. So they developed a solution to automate the water fountain cleaning process, making the fountains accessible to immunosuppressed individuals, in addition to designing a prototype UVC disinfecting flashlight to test their solution.

4H SCREAM Team at FIRST LEGO League competition
4H SCREAM Team at FIRST LEGO League competition

“4-H SCREAM’s robot was designed similar to a forklift with a front attachment that moved up and down as well as left and right,” said 4-H SCREAM’s coach Jeff Suckow. “This helped the robot maneuver the bridge that was part of the game” at the competition.

The Strategy and Innovation award recognized the team’s solid engineering practices and a well-honed strategy to design and build an innovative and high performing robot.

The younger team members were accompanied at the state tournament by the teenage members of FIRST Tech Challenge team Super Scream Bros. And on Feb. 1, Super Scream Bros. made some waves of their own at the FIRST Tech Challenge Southern Illinois and Central East division league tournament, in which teams of up to 15 students design, build and program their robots to compete in an alliance against other teams.

FIRST Tech Challenge team Super Scream Bros
FIRST Tech Challenge team Super Scream Bros

Super Scream Bros. received the Motivate award in recognition of their efforts to spread the message of FIRST-For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology- and STEM throughout their community. “One of our biggest talking points during judging was the outreach we had done,” team manager Zach Jalley said, “we had helped many First Lego League teams, volunteered at events and even hosted a few events.”  

The team was also named as second place Inspire award winner. Best of all, they got to be one of 24 teams to move on to compete at the Illinois FIRST Tech Championship on Feb. 20 and 21 in Elgin.

Sergio Barreto

Written by Sergio Barreto

Sergio's American life began as an exchange student in Lincoln, IL. After more than 20 years living up North, writing for outlets such as The Chicago Reader, organizing & promoting cultural events and what-not, he had it with the big city and moved back to Central Illinois. He currently edits financial newsletters, in addition to designing and maintaining websites like this one.

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