Virginia Western students, community members compete for robotic glory

Students and judge viewing robotics track Team R2D2 robot

In honor of the fifth annual National Robotics Week from April 5-13, Virginia Western Community College held a Robotics Invitational Competition with a packed gym of team competitors on Tuesday, April 8.

The techno-evening of robots and fun was sponsored by the Virginia Western School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the Engineering Program. The competition is designed for middle school, high school and college robotics teams and science classes, and features a different challenge each year. The challenge for this year was to design a robot vehicle to autonomously navigate an oval track with obstacles. Teams were judged and graded on obstacle course completion, time, technical report and each team’s formal presentation.

Twelve teams raced the track and clock in tight competition, with Team Terminator taking high honors and Team R2D2 earning a special “best-looking design” category. Both Team Terminator and Team R2D2 consisted of Virginia Western first-year engineering students, with members listed below.

Team Terminator                                                                   

Chris Mullen, Roanoke City

Michael Reppa, Salem

Joe Reppa,  Salem

Team R2D2  

Brandon Belz, Botetourt County

Smit Patel, SW Roanoke County

Libby Rhodes, Botetourt County

Zoe Smith, Salem

Connor Zeller, SE Roanoke County

Each robot’s base design starts with a Parallax robot kit with specific rules on performance and a limited budget for additional parts. Each robot entry must also contain a part made by the robotics team on a rapid prototype (3D) printer.

The Roanoke Robotics club exhibited multiple autonomous robots and automation projects as a “halftime show. The intermission was introduced by master of ceremonies robot with a wireless camera system with both radio control and an autonomous power shutdown when an impending collision is detected.

The Roanoke Robotics Club’s Schilke family delighted the attendees with their full-size and functional Dr. Who Dalek robot, made available for riding inside around the Virginia Western gym.

Sumo bots are small robots designed to push the other competing robot out of the ring, similar to Japanese sumo wrestlers.  Robotics club members and the Back Creek Cub Scout Den 224 demonstrated radio controlled sumo-bots to the cheering crowds.

TMEIC was the event’s corporate sponsor, and engineers from TMEIC, GE and the Roanoke Robotics Club served as judges.

National Robotics week is:

  • Celebrating the United States as a leader in robotics technology development
  • Inspiring students of all ages to pursue careers in robotics and other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) related fields
  • Educating the public about how robotics technology impacts society, both now and in the future
  • Advocating for increased funding for robotics technology research and development
Posted on April 15, 2014 in Campus News | Permalink

Register for Summer classes beginning April 11

Students can enroll for Summer Semesters beginning on April 11, 2014. The 10-week Summer Semester and the first 5-week Summer Session begin on May 19. The second 5-week Summer Session begins on June 25. View classes and enroll at: http://virginiawestern.edu/classes/index_detail.php?selectedTerm=2143|Summer|Summer%202014.


Posted on April 10, 2014 in Campus News | Permalink

Virginia Western students gain hands-on GIS experience at NASA center

Virginia Western Community College students and faculty recently visited NASA Langley Research Center to conduct field work and gain a valuable education experience while supporting NASA’s needs for capturing data.

Nine students and three faculty members from Virginia Western, Thomas Nelson Community College and Dabney S. Lancaster Community College participated in the field work. The students were involved with a service learning project that is a component of a distance learning geospatial information systems (GIS) course being offered by Virginia Western. This course was a pilot to inform future GIS courses with a service learning project.

“I love having students come to NASA. They bring such an enthusiasm that helps renew our outlook on work, and the benefit to NASA is having additional data captured that we would not normally have time to do ourselves,” said Mary Gainer, the historical preservation officer for NASA Langley’s Environmental Office. “Everybody wins!”

The interdisciplinary distance learning class was provided through partnerships between professors David Webb (Virginia Western), Cherie Aukland (Thomas Nelson) and Brian Keiling (Dabney Lancaster). Students from GIS and forestry pathway programs participated in the field work and teamed together to collect and map data. Using GPS data collectors, the students gathered information on tree species, health, maintenance recommendations and tree size. The data will be incorporated into NASA Langley’s tree inventory maintained in GIS. Students also completed an analysis of the data to provide maps of problem tree locations, species concentration and relative tree size.

“I really enjoyed being able to work with the forestry students. I learned from them, and I hope they learned from me,” said Virginia Western student Brittany Johnson. “Being able to tour NASA Langley was a great treat. Our sponsor Mary Gainer was awesome. To see how passionate she was about her work inspired me to fight for my dream job.”

A bonus for the project was the measurement of two trees that were entered into the Virginia Big Tree program. A sassafras tree on Center is ranked as the third largest of its kind in the state while a large white oak will rank within the top 10 trees statewide.

“I would have to say that it was an amazing learning experience for me. It was wonderful to get hands-on experience using tools that collect the data that goes in the databases and creating the databases. I gained first-hand field experience with the power of GIS,” said Virginia Western student Heidi Phillips. “Not to mention, I learned quite a bit about urban forestry. I liked the fact that I now know several more possible opportunities for employment in the GIS realm. It seems endless.”

“David, Cherie, and Brian are fantastic instructors and really took the leadership on making this course happen,” said Chris Carter, VSGC Deputy Director. “We are pleased to be working with them and NASA Langley on this project to provide a great experience for these students.”

The field trip was sponsored by the GeoTEd (Expanding Geospatial Technician Education Through Virginia’s Community Colleges) project. GeoTEd scholarships funded the students’ tuition and travel. GeoTEd is administered by Virginia Space Grant Consortium in partnership with Virginia Western, Thomas Nelson, Southwest Virginia Community College, Virginia Community College System and Virginia Tech. NASA Langley, a VSGC member, is working with the GeoTEd team to offer more service learning projects in the future. GeoTEd partners intend to repeat the class and expand it to all of the 23 Virginia community colleges in future semesters. More information can be found at www.geoted.org.

Virginia Western is offering the course again this summer. Important dates and information on how to register can be located at www.virginiawestern.edu.

Posted on in Campus News | Permalink

Virginia Western announces Distinguished Alumni and Impact Awards

Virginia Western Community College and the Virginia Western Educational Foundation recently honored Campus Police Chief Craig S. Harris and J. David Wine with Distinguished Alumni Awards for 2014. The Powell Charitable Foundation was selected for the Community College Impact Award.

Chief Craig Harris and FamilyHarris, who has been the college’s Chief of Police since 2005, earned his Associate’s Degree from Virginia Western in 2000. His work at Virginia Western has resulted in numerous recognitions for campus safety. Prior to graduating from Virginia Western, Harris was a Sergeant in the Investigations Division of the Vinton Police Department. He also holds an Administration of Justice degree from Bluefield College and a Master’s Degree in Business Management from Liberty University.

“Chief Harris is an extremely deserving recipient of our Distinguished Alumni Award,” said Dr. Angela M. Falconetti, Vice President of Institutional Advancement. “Not only is he a role model for our students showing what they can achieve if they dedicate themselves, but he is also on campus every day ensuring that the College is as safe as it can possibly be. We thank him for his continued service to Virginia Western.”

In addition to Harris, Wine was also honored with a 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award. Wine, a 1973 graduate, has been a long-time supporter of the college and had a successful career as an entrepreneur. He recently joined the Virginia Western Educational Foundation Board of Directors. After beginning his career in respiratory therapy at Pulaski Hospital, Wine started his own company – Advanced Healthcare Services – selling in-home nursing care equipment. He sold Advanced Healthcare Services in 1998 and has supported the community through work with numerous organizations including the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke College, Hollins University and Carilion Clinic.

The Powell Charitable Foundation was recognized for its philanthropic work in support of Virginia Western. Started at the request of the late Paul A. Powell Sr., the Foundation pledged $200,000 to Virginia Western’s Community College Access Program (CCAP) in 2012. Mary Powell Roberts, Peggy Dowell Daniel (now deceased), William N. Powell, Paul A. Powell Jr. and John D. Powell have continued their father’s legacy by ensuring that college is possible for all the region’s high school graduates.

Posted on April 1, 2014 in Campus News | Permalink

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