Robotics and the future accessible to Santee in new SWRiSE Clubhouse

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Kids in Botball tournament T-shirts, using soda cans to build competition courses and talking about competing with First Lego League filled a corner business suite in a strip mall on Woodside Avenue this past Sunday for Open House event for the SWRiSE (Southwest Robotics in Science Education) Clubhouse. They are supplementing the STEM they are learning in school or participating in Robotics for fun, or both, and they already have skills and qualifications that would, and will, benefit them in the job market.

Kids in Botball tournament T-shirts, using soda cans to build competition courses and talking about competing with First Lego League filled a corner business suite in a strip mall on Woodside Avenue this past Sunday for Open House event for the SWRiSE (Southwest Robotics in Science Education) Clubhouse. They are supplementing the STEM they are learning in school or participating in Robotics for fun, or both, and they already have skills and qualifications that would, and will, benefit them in the job market.

Boys and girls gathered, captivated, next to the competition tables in the clubhouse, typing on computer keyboards or watching programmed robots accumulate points on courses built of PVC pipe with foam pieces. It is educational, fun, social, and it is the future.

At least, that is what founder Cory Hoover believes. He started SWRiSE in 2010, formally establishing it as a non-profit in 2012. The clubhouse has been open since January.

Hoover started SWRiSE as an entity, he said, “something I could operate out of”, and in 2012 he started reaching out to the people who now sit on the Board of Directors. He graduated from West Hills High School in 2005, and since then he has toured and competed in Robotics tournaments. He also mentored and helped run regional and national tournaments for Botball and the First Lego League. In the last few years he took over the San Diego and Los Angeles region for Botball tournaments.

“They’re not combative robots, but they are competitive,” Hoover said of the middle school and high school robotics teams he works with. “The students are building all the robots and they’re also programming the robots on their computers and downloading to the robots.”

Just in time for summer, Hoover is rolling out programs for kids to spend quality time working with robotics. The clubhouse, he described, is a combination of things. It could be seen as a hangout, a camp, and an off-site educational facility for schools.

“The goal is to have Saturday workshops, three hour or six hour workshops. We have two summer camps lined up right now, July and August, and we’re going to be adding more,” Hoover said.

The July camp will target grades 6-8, and the August camp will target grades 7-9. Plans for younger grades are being made, once SWRiSE is up and running.

In East County in particular, Hoover sees a lack of mentor opportunities for industry, and not enough interest in engineering. Schools in East County do not always have robotics (or the space to accommodate it), though the curriculum is catching on.

“We can help provide mentors for those students, most of the mentors are in La Jolla or North County,” he said.

Hoover hopes to see school teams come into the clubhouse, and if their school does not have the space, he will let them use his clubhouse. That would be accomplished through membership hours that he and his staff have envisioned and will be implementing.

 “They’re very engaged, they want to learn more, this piques their curiosity,” said LaNeida Briggs, board member and director of Media Relations for SWRise. 

That curiosity was on every young face. Joe, father to Jayson and Jared, were at the clubhouse from its opening. His sons belong to a Cub Scout troop that does Botball and First Lego League.

“I wish they had it when I was a kid! The cool thing about Botball is that they’re learning programming, compiling, whereas the First Lego League, it’s all icon-based. They actually have to type in the coding. It sets the foundation for them to learn other coding in the future,” he said. 

Future Santana student Trevor sat at one of the competition tables with his peers as his mother looked on with a pleased, proud smile, the kind of smile that comes from watching a child perform happily in an activity with which they have identified and begun to take off with potential. Trevor has already been involved in robotics for three years, Botball for one year, and has taken first in competitions. He will be enrolled in the engineering program at West Hills and has even taken classes at Grossmont College for programming. According to his mom, Heather, “it’s his passion.”

Hoover’s vision is tangible, practical, but as far as the kids are concerned, accessible for the activity they so enjoy. Who knows what breakthroughs have already taken root inside a robotics clubhouse in a business suite in Santee.

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