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ENGINEERING A FUTURE

October 23, 2017

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

Zander Castleman was six the first time he remembers his “pawpaw” talking about being stationed in Alaska while serving in the army.

The eighth-grader at Stewarts Creek Middle School is 13 now, and so he only “very faintly” remembers “bits and pieces” of the stories his maternal grandfather, Randy Castleman, shared with his family.

Zander said his grandparents would be “sitting inside with the heat on” and when they didn’t have anything else to work on, his grandfather would restore classic cars.

“He took an old car and he made it like brand new,” Zander said. “He refreshened it. It drove really good for how old it was and for him to do that, he was pretty good at it.”

His grandfather also happened to be an engineer.

Zander, who has been taking STEM classes, remembered those stories when he heard about how much fun his friends were having in the robotics program at the middle school.

“I just wanted to do it and that’s what made me come over here,” Zander said.

Stewarts Creek Middle and Thurman Francis Arts Academy, which serves grades K-8, are the only two schools from Rutherford County that are taking part in the B.E.S.T. Robotics competition this year. B.E.S.T is an acronym for Boosting Engineering Science and Technology.

This year’s competition will be Oct. 28 at Lipscomb University in Nashville.

The top three schools will advance to a national competition of southern states being held at Auburn University in December.

Rhonda Halimi, a second-grade teacher at Thurman Francis, is the robotics coordinator for the school, while Kevin Welch is a first-year robotics advisor for Stewarts Creek Middle.

Both middle school programs are considered to be relatively new.

Halimi said this year’s team of 24 students is their largest and described them by saying “this team is phenomenal.” They’ve been practicing every day after school from 3:30-5:30 p.m. but on occasion they have stayed until after 7 p.m. and practiced on Saturdays.

“The progress on the robot has definitely gone a lot faster than it did last year,” said Sidney Risner, a sixth-grader already in her third year of being part of the robotics team. “We definitely got more ideas for the exhibit a lot faster this year.”

Risner, 11, said the team has hung up more posters around school to generate interest and awareness.

Thurman Francis members have to double up on helping the team in more than one area. Teams are judged on everything from spirit and marketing to engineering and presentation, but a major part of their score is a “notebook” outlining and detailing their entire project.

Stewarts Creek, which is a larger school, has 51 members this year.

Welch and second-year member Tyler Knox, an eighth-grader, said the team has been working well together.

“We’re all getting along this year,” said Knox, who was part of the marketing and presentation team in 2016 and is now part of a team constructing this year’s booth. “I came here to ask them a question and fell in love with the booth so I just kind of stayed. I never left.”

He added, “It’s a lot better than just school. It’s fun. You get to be with your friends doing something educational for the good of the team.”

Knox said Stewarts Creek scored solid 4’s last year and expect to improve those in 2017, which they hope will ultimately result in a trip to Auburn, Alabama.

“If you want advance placement classes in high school for math or anything like that,” said Castleman, who is one of the team’s engineers and learned how to properly use power tools, take measurements and other real life skills, “here would be a great start. I’ve learned so much just in a month that I can’t list it all.”

Castleman is hoping the middle school robotics team is the foundation that leads to one day majoring in engineering at LSU.

PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
MAIN PHOTO: A trio of robotics members from Stewarts Creek Middle School – Zander Castleman, Reese Pittman and Jackson Campbell (L to R) – work on their robot after school. PHOTO GALLERY: Members of the robotics team from Stewarts Creek prepare for this year’s B.E.S.T. Robotics competition. Stewarts Creek a team from Thurman Francis Arts Academy will compete October 28 in Nashville.