Ritter Awarded Texas 4H Grant: Bringing STEM Opportunities to Rural County Youth

In January 2024, Dr. Ritter founded the Panola Robotics program with two Lego Mindstorm robots borrowed by the Panola County AgriLife Extension Office. This comprehensive program is designed to equip youth with a variety of skills related to robotics, coding, and engineering. From robotics design to problem-solving, teamwork, and presentation skills, our program covers it all. It’s not just about preparing for future careers in STEM fields, but also about nurturing valuable life skills. In March of 2024, the program expanded its fleet of robots by adding two Lego Spike Prime robots, the latest robotic kits, further enhancing the learning experience. Dr. Nicola Ritter, Instructional Associate Professor, was awarded a grant from the Texas 4H Foundation to provide this expansion. 

The Panola Robotics group, consisting of 3rd-12th graders meets for their weekly build every Monday from 5:30 to 7:30pm at the Sammy Brown Library hospitality suite. At the weekly build meetings, youth will network with other youth interested in robotics, form competition teams, prepare/practice to participate in robotics contests, and tour nearby businesses or meet professionals who work in STEM-related fields. Follow their Facebook page for the latest events.

Panola Robotics competes in 4H and non-4H competitions. Recently, two teams of three students each competed in Texas Tech University’s Get Excited About Robotics (GEAR) Competition held at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. One team placed 2nd in their league, advancing to the finals, where they placed 5th overall. “With this being our first year to compete, I’m thrilled about how far both of our teams placed,” stated Dr. Nicola Ritter, Founder and Coach. 

Panola Robotics’ next competition was on May 4th at Panola College. This competition was a sumo-style, with the goal of pushing your competitor out of the arena. If you’ve seen the television show Battle Bots, it’s a similar format minus damaging each other’s robots. 

Dr. Ritter has partnered with  Panola College to host two robotics camps this summer, July 22nd – 24th. Robotics camp for 3rd-5th grade will be from 8am to 12pm, while 6th-8th grade camp will be from 12:30pm to 4:30pm. Robots and game boards will be provided for attendees. Register at: https://www.panola.edu/community .

With the group just starting, Panola Robotics is looking for sponsors and ways to financially support these youth with travel costs, tablets/computers, and portable chargers. Panola Robotics has initiated an electronics recycling program. Members will accept your unused electronic devices, such as cell phones, tablets, and inkjet printer cartridges, to recycle. They have also placed recycling boxes around town, including the Panola County AgriLife Extension Office, the Panola County Chamber of Commerce, Sammy Brown Library, and the Center for Educational Technologies at Texas A&M University. All donations are tax deductible. If you are interested in sponsoring contact Dr. Nicola Ritter at NRitter@cvm.tamu.edu