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New computers, equipment and storage will help more students use the space more efficiently

SETH GORDON - Newberg High School students Christian Evans (at right) and Paul Sperling (at right below) work to remove the case from a 3-D printer that was donated to the Robotics program. Students recently completed renovations to its lab within the NHS machine shop that will increase usability and appeal to younger students.

Tucked away to one side of the Newberg High School machine shop, around a corner and obscured by a large industrial exhaust hood, the robotics lab wasn't exactly the most accessible space in the school.

A group of juniors and sophomores decided to change that this spring, leading a campaign to finance a facelift for the program's workspace.

Led by juniors Quentin Comus and Paul Sperling, the renovation was completed last month and students held an open house May 22 to thank their sponsors and encourage new students and community groups to engage with the club.

Administrators and even school board members attended, which Comus said was an important step.

"I guess this was the first time any board member has stepped foot in the machine shop, so we thought that should probably change and that the public should know about it," he said. "There are a lot of opportunities coming out of here for career paths and partnerships. We don't just want to compete, we want to build stuff and have a purpose."

The renovation had a few main components, including new equipment, better storage, more open space and a new competition field.

Among the new equipment are two new research/design stations featuring desktop computers, two laptop computers, a projector, color printer and a donated 3-D printer.

Most of the equipment was funded through the educational crowdsourcing website DonorsChoose.org, where teachers can post projects that just about anyone can fund. The Newberg club had good timing, as New York-based cryptocurrency company Ripple donated approximately $30 million to fund every project on the site.

The desktop computers will be used to design robots, create graphics and interface with the 3-D printers, while the laptops will be used for coding and be brought to competitions. They represent a vast improvement over the lab's previous laptops, which were saddled by nearly-dead batteries.

"It's super exciting when we can go straight to our workstation and work on a multitude of different projects all at once," teacher Terry Coss wrote to thank backers on DonorsChoose.org. "We don't just build robots, we build life skills, and these computers will help us succeed in not just the competition aspect of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technolgoy), but the teamwork aspect."

Students also cleared out much of the clutter from the lab to create more usable space for students not only to work on their competition robots, but on other projects. One local business donated a new array of storage containers that helped opened up the lab.

The program has several projects on DonorsChoose.org that community members can support. Most of them will be done in partnership with the NHS science department in order to support learning in other classrooms in the school, especially in environmental education.

That includes hydroelectric dam and wind turbine models and an augmented reality (AR) sandbox, which uses sand as a three-dimensional projector screen that can be manipulated by hand to demonstrate various topographical models.

The AR Sandbox will also be used for outreach, which is a major component of the club. It hosts middle-school robotics and coding camps each year and one of the projects on DonorsChoose.org is for kits that will allow high school students to teach basic robotics principles to elementary students in the district.

"(Career technical education) is a big thing in Newberg and there's a lot of money pouring into it," Comus said. "We have maybe some advantages with our age and exposure to the 21st century technology that we might be able to have some input to help (the district) engage the right audience and help set them up for positive classes."

The students also plan to host tours of the new lab for middle school students in the fall

"We know there are kids who want to do this, who are passionate about it, so we're trying to make it more available," Comus said. "That's the whole goal."

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