Stewarts Creek Middle School has no shortage of after-school clubs. The cafeteria turns into an archery range when the bell rings. Art club, photography, book club and choir all have a home among Stewarts Creek’s offerings for students.
But middle and high school students at Stewarts Creek are gaining real world skills in engineering, mechanical design, programming, graphic design and construction. This is all thanks to the Stewarts Creek Robotics Team.
Kevin Welch, the coach for the team, is passionate about STEM. “First of all, it’s just fun,” Welch said. “I enjoy mechanical engineering challenges. I like robotics because it expresses coding. I like seeing machines come to life, and I love working with students. My driving reason for doing robotics with students is because at the end of the day I don’t think there is anything else that could change the direction of their life quite the same as realizing what they can do in a STEM field.”
Robotics may be the heart of the program, but Stewarts Creek students also participate in community outreach through STEM events. They garner interest in robotics by helping other youth in Murfreesboro and surrounding communities interact with technology.
“They set up at the Discovery Center and let kids come and operate robots and learn about our team,” Welch said, as an example. “But they also teach the community about the field of STEM and the opportunities it presents. They use this platform [the team] to reach out and expose other students to robotics. We also do community service like cleaning up the creeks, and partner with the town of Smyrna and some of the elementary schools.”
The community sponsors the team, and the team sponsors the community. Although Stewarts Creek Robotics is a competitor — they also recruit other Rutherford schools to compete and challenge themselves in the robotics competitions, including rivals Rocks Springs, Rocky Fork, Christiana and Blackman middle schools.
The team provides an opportunity for students at Stewarts Creek Middle and High to do more than build robots. There are many positions which require different skillsets to make the team the success it is. Students are needed in the areas of computer-aided design, coding, manufacturing, community outreach, graphic design, marketing, team exhibit and presentation.
Ethan Morrow has been a robotics team member for two years. The mentorship has been one of the most rewarding things about being a part of the award-winning team, he explained.
“There’s always someone with a lot of experience who is there to train you and guide you. They are the ones that can help you. Then in turn you’re responsible for helping others. You want to make sure that everyone gets a taste of robotics. That’s where the world is moving,” said Morrow.
Victoria Welch, who has been on the team for six years, is a veteran and leader. She currently works on the engineering notebook for the team and leads graphic design.
“Patience, teamwork and leadership are the most important lessons I’ve learned,” Victoria said. “Patience because I am a leader. When you’re leading a team, people that are inexperienced, you need to have patience in teaching them. Leadership — you learn how to be constructive yet kind. Teamwork — we are one big team. We have smaller sub teams but it’s important we all work together at the end of the day.”
There is no shortage of merits for the members of the team. Students recently competed in the Music City BEST Robotics competition, a contest for students to design and build a robot in just eight weeks. But the work continues.
Currently, the team holds 10 first place awards from last season, two from the South’s BEST competition and eight from the Music City BEST competition.
After winning the overall BEST award in the Nashville competition last weekend, the Stewarts Creek robotics team will advance to the South’s BEST competition held at Auburn University in December.
“One of our biggest values is our commitment to work ethic,” Welch said. “We believe that talent gets you so far, ability gets you so far … but every one of our students here is sharp. The thing that makes Stewarts Creek students a force to be reckoned with is work ethic. When you win accolades and awards, you must remember to keep that drive forward. Train hard and work hard. Past success is not an indicator of future success.”