Eighty teenagers screamed, squealed and jumped for joy Friday in a theatre at the University of New Brunswick, but instead of watching their favourite music or movie star, they were taking part in a robotics competition.
They chanted the names of their teams – Slow Coco, Road Runner and Guy Fieri – as their wheeled contraptions followed a course laid out with black tape on the floor.
Every year, roughly 800 of the brightest high school students from across Canada are given a chance to explore their full potential through an innovative month-long program at one of 13 universities across the country.
The program, known as SHAD, promotes entrepreneurship, team building and problem solving, and the students are spending much of their time this year examining the issue of climate change.
About 80 of the students are spending their July at UNB in Fredericton where part of the program involves a competition to build and program a robot to follow a prescribed course in the fastest time.
This year’s winner was team Slow Coco.
Team member, Lili Paroski of Waterloo, Ont., said she’s learning a lot.
“We’ve been pushed a lot out of our comfort zone, which I really appreciate. We’ve been pushed past our limits and that’s helped broaden our horizons and expose us to new things to discover the things we like or don’t like. I think that will help us later on in life as well,” she said.
Still, Paroski and teammates Glenn Lu of North York, Ont., and Brad Hallam of Saskatoon, Sask., said the best part of the competition was winning.
Their robot wasn’t as fast as many of their competitors, but had fewer errors on the course – reaching the finish line first and triggering a toy gun to fire a suction-cup-tipped dart at an awaiting target.
Dan Doiron, a UNB business professor who is serving as a faculty advisor for the SHAD program, said it’s hoped the program will help develop an entrepreneurial spirit in the students.
They’ve been put into teams of 10 students to develop a product to help reduce Canada’s carbon footprint.
“Then they build business plans and prototypes, and they actually end it by doing pitches to venture capital investors for their businesses,” he said.
Doiron said the kids think big. One group even developed a plan to extract carbon that’s captured in the permafrost of Canada’s North.
“They’re going to build enclosed greenhouse growing operations in the north that take water out of the big lakes that have an abundance of carbon in them because it’s coming out of the permafrost. They’re going to capture it and they’re going to use it to help enhance the growing process in these greenhouses,” he said.
More than 16,000 teens have gone through the program since 1980, including 32 who became Rhodes Scholars.