KHSD students learning robotics: 'Don't just let the future steamroll you'

Edgar Alvarato programs a robotic arm to pick up plastic red balls and drop them in specific locations, mirroring how automated assembly lines function. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

There are high school robotics classes all over the country, but none like the one at the Kern High School District Regional Occupational Center.

These students are learning how to build, program and fix robots.

According to instructor Stephen Mears, the same robots are taught at MIT and are used in major manufacturing plants throughout America.

"This class has technology that is immediately applicable upon completion of the course," said Mears.

The students in his class learn everything from 3-D printing and rapid prototyping to robotic arms, like the one Edgar Alvarato is programming.

Alvarato spoke as the robotic arm he programed tactfully moved red balls from one location to the next.

When Alvarato told his parents about the ROC course, they thought it was a joke. After seeing what Alvarato has learned to do in just a few weeks, their support is through the roof.

"Now they think that I actually have a future for this," said Alvarato. "A better future for me."

Also in this class, students learn to program humanoid robots.

Joanne Barnes programmed an entire robot dance in just a few minutes, and she's taught the robot to do a lot more.

"I put my hand over his eyes, and he'll be like, 'I can't see.' ... It's just the coolest thing," said Barnes.

She didn't know much about robots or engineering before she started the ROC course, but now she's planning to make a career of it as an engineer in the U.S. Navy.

"It's only been a few months, and I just feel like I'm so proficient in everything, so by the end of the year going into my career, I'll be really experienced," said Barnes.

That's the point of the robotics course and every course at the ROC: to make sure Kern County has employable youth coming out of high school. Not just today, not just tomorrow, but always.

"One thing that I really stress to students is to not be afraid to be a visionary. Not be afraid to think about the future and how you want to interact with it," said Mears. "Don't just let the future steamroll you."

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