UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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Jacobs School Students Reach Out to Neighbors at Preuss

Conway (r) and three other Jacobs School students have been working with the seventh and eighth graders for the past two months to prepare them for the upcoming national competition in Oklahoma on June 1.
Electrical engineering graduate student Adam Conway joins a handful of other volunteers from the Jacobs School who have made a commitment to mentoring and enriching the lives of the university’s future prospects — the youngsters at the neighboring Preuss School. Since 2001, the Preuss School at UCSD has provided intensive college preparation for low-income middle and high school student populations, which are historically underrepresented in the UC system.

Mentoring has become a passion for Conway, who is involved in the Preuss School’s BotBall program.

So what exactly is BotBall? BotBall is a teambased competition in which Preuss’ middle school students use robots to perform certain tasks, such as manipulating balls or PVC pipes around a board. The biggest difference between BotBall and other robot contests is that the robots are autonomous, which means that they must be programmed beforehand, and use sensors and a control unit to operate. The beauty of the program is that it gets kids interested in engineering, math and science under the guise of fun. “They learn all different principles of engineering, from design to structural engineering to computer science, as well as math and physics skills - all combined into the subtopic of robotics, which they get excited about and don't realize that they're learning," chuckles Conway.

BotBall serves as a catalyst to get the students interested in engineering at a young age and inspire them to carry that enthusiasm into high school First Robotics. According to Conway, “Both programs are great and provide real world, hands-on experience that they don’t get in class, and especially at home.” Unlike the autonomous robots in BotBall, students in First Robotics build larger contraptions (30”x 36”x 60” and 130 lbs.), which are primarily operated via remote control.

Because of programs like BotBall and First Robotics, Preuss’ first high school graduates in 2004 will be more equipped than ever to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.