Tech education growing in the Gorge

December 7, 2011

Amidst an audience of geeky-aficionados, the Trout Lake School District robotics team deftly lifted a red triangular inner tube onto the uppermost rung of the simulation ladder - and all without using their hands.

The robotics team, winners at last year's regional First! Robotics League challenge at OMSI, were just one of the presenting groups at the Gorge Technology Alliance meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

What made their presentation special amongst the panel of presenters discussing technology-education connections in the Gorge was the live demonstration of their hand-built, winning robot, in action moving nimbly across the wooden floors of Springhouse Cellar while following wireless commands.

And, what made that demonstration possible, ultimately, were the members of local technology companies sitting in the room - most of whom had made investments of staff time and money into education programs in technology, math, science and engineering in our region.

The GTA evening featured a panel of employers sharing how some businesses are connecting with K-12 educational systems in the Gorge.

Representatives from Insitu-Boeing, Google, Cloud Cap Technologies-Goodrich, Project Invent and others discussed existing programs that offer opportunities for community-based tech-education, which simultaneously improve their businesses.

With options for internships, school grants, mentorships, events and innovative new programs, GTA members are engaging with the region's emerging workforce as a way of "giving back" to the community while developing incoming talent.

Dave Karlson, operation manager at Google in The Dalles, summarized their efforts to develop a robotics program in every school within the five counties of the Gorge.

"We've donated about $180,000 over the last few years to make that a reality," said Karlson. (See sidebar story for more details.)

Patrick Bettale, electrical engineer at Cloud Cap, has provided hands-on, volunteer mentorship to the Trout Lake robotics team.

"They did most of the work," said Bettale, "I just guided and oversaw it." Bettale was there to discuss the impact local tech-savvy employees can have on young minds.

"Even a little time makes a big difference. I volunteer once a week and a few hours on Saturdays," said Battale about his work during the robotics season.

Trout Lake team coach, Sally Wells noted that the entire community watched the evolution of the robot. "It was a slam dunk at homecoming."

Holly Higdon-Wood, executive director of "Project Invent," spoke about the revelation leading to the founding of her new nonprofit which promotes innovative teaching in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with a twist.

"It is too late to introduce advanced STEM programs when kids are juniors in high school. We want to encourage innovation and spark creativity at a younger age. We also want to connect STEM programs with writing and research skills."

Project Invent is working with middle schools and hopes to bring opportunities to third and fourth-grade students as well.

With this year's robotics season just beginning, events and programs starting at the elementary school level are already under way.

This weekend, the Lego-League elementary program will hold part two of its second annual competition in Hood River. Last year 14 teams competed. This year there are 46. (See sidebar for contest details.)

The unified approach between schools and tech-businesses to make STEM programs user friendly is clearly catching on.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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