Legos: Building blocks to scholarship success

3:05:13 PM CDT - Thursday, February 01, 2007

By Shannon Littlejohn

It's almost time for WSU's colleges of education and engineering to host their annual LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Challenge, and initial organizer Tonya Witherspoon has a great success story to tell.

Each year, the Mindstorms Challenge gives hundreds of young students an opportunity to learn about the practical application and exhibition of math, science, programming, and engineering skills through completing mission challenges designed by Shocker engineers. Teams of fourth-eighth grade students from across Kansas then demonstrate their learning to professional engineers and educators.

Back to Witherspoon's story about one of the first students she worked with using the LEGO Mindstorms equipment.

"It was October 1998 and Benny was in fourth grade. LEGO had just made the equipment available for purchase. I bought a kit and worked with Benny and a couple of other kids to research the learning potential of the equipment.

"I decided it was BIG. I talked to a group of business execs, got funding from Boeing, and started a program at WSU. Fast forward to today."

The young man, she said, is now a senior in the IB program at Wichita's East High School. Benny, aka Benjamin Knoblauch, was recently awarded the largest scholarship offered by the College of Engineering, the Robert and Sharon Bailey scholarship, which pays tuition, fees and books for up to five years. He plans to study computer engineering at Wichita State.

It's enough to make Witherspoon proud, and it likely makes his mother proud, too. Mom is Bobbie Knoblauch, who teaches at WSU in the Barton School of Business.

The Boeing Charitable Trust Co. continues to provide funding for the LEGO Mindstorms equipment. And, although Witherspoon is no longer an education technology specialist for the College of Education, she is still an adjunct lecturer and remains involved with the Mindstorms competition through her work as director of technology and virtual services for ESSDACK (Education Support and Staff Development Assocation of Central Kansas).

For more information about the LEGO Mindstorms Challenge, go to education.wichita.edu/mindstorms.

The colleges of education and engineering at Wichita State University are hosting the seventh annual LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Challenge, whose theme is Space: The LEGO Frontier. Young "astronauts" will be hard at work from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, in the Heskett Center gymnasium. The awards ceremony will be held at 5 p.m. in 208 Hubbard Hall. For details, contact associate professor of engineering Larry Whitman, 978-5907 or larry.whitman@wichita.edu.

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