On Nov. 6, Taylor University is hosting the Unified Robotics Championship (URC) for the first time.
This year marks the fifth year that Grant County school districts are participating in an event sponsored by Special Olympics Unified Sports. Unified Robotics began at the elementary level only last year as a pilot project. URC is also in partnership with STEM Outreach, working to spread awareness about careers in mathematics and science.
Lisa Graham, executive director of the Grant County Special Education Cooperative, said the Indiana Council of Administrators for Special Education (ICASE) strategically moved slowly in developing this event to ensure it was run to the best of its ability. Their desire is to grow Unified Robotics until any district in Indiana can participate.
20 teams of six players will compete at Kesler Student Activities Center (KSAC) from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Each team will consist of third to fifth graders, three students with disabilities and three without disabilities.
The teams began to meet on Sept. 27 to begin constructing a LEGO SPIKE Prime robot, which they will program to complete various tasks in the competition.
“This inclusive environment teaches diversity, inclusion and genuine relationship building,” Graham said. “While we hope each team gains in the knowledge they started with concerning robotics, it is more important that everyone grows in their understanding that all students can learn, grow and provide a role on the team.”
For Taylor students who want to get involved, Melissa Jessup, assistant professor of education, is the main coordinator of URC. Coaching positions are available through Volunteer Ambassadors.
This entails 1 – 1.5 hours of weekly commitment, either in person or virtually, assisting teams with their robots until the date of competition, Nov. 6.
Jessup is in her fourth year at Taylor but has worked with a range of students with learning disabilities through the course of her career. She said bringing students onto Taylor’s campus is going to be a wonderful experience and difference maker for both parties.
“That’s the biggest goal that we want to accomplish here, to see that you don’t have to have a certain kind of ability to have those opportunities,” Jessup said. “With this event, in this program, they have access to an opportunity to engage in a STEM activity that they may not have any opportunity any other way.”
Josiah McClurg, assistant professor of engineering, said he hopes this Unified STEM event will get students excited about science and engineering. Two of his students, freshman Koby Rodgers and junior Nate Moore, are currently mentors of the teams prepping for the championship.
“We talk a lot about faith and learning integration and sometimes that can feel a little cerebral,” McClurg said. “Something that’s cool about this is it’s a way for the engineering students to apply their engineering gifts, which I think are spiritual gifts.”
On championship day, volunteer ambassadors need help with setting up, greeting and guiding students arriving on campus and assisting teams who may need a break. Anyone is welcome to volunteer the day of the championship.
Especially in the engineering field, people with learning disabilities are not being considered in the design process, McClurg said. Through Unified Robotics, McClurg hopes exposure at this event will not only impact Taylor student’s perspective, but positively influence the participant’s futures.
Following the conclusion of the championship, participants are encouraged to attend Taylor football’s game against rival Indiana Wesleyan at 1 p.m. Food will be available in the parking lot outside of Turner Stadium, as part of a tailgate for students and family.