Black History Month 2022 Feature: Rodney Williams

Organization: South Panola High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, Mississippi Squadron 081 (MS-081)

State: Mississippi

How did you become interested in robotics?

My introduction to robotics happened during a JROTC introductory workshop for cadet instructors. Presenters explained to the group that the mission of the United States Air Force Academy Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Outreach Program is to offer a variety of products and services locally and nationally that effectively engage, inspire, and attract the next generation of STEM talent.

What made you want to start a team/work with students?

I thought robotics would be a cool way to introduce the cadets to innovative technology. Developing a STEM program in the school would introduce students to a wide range of careers. A good STEM education gives students skills that make them more employable and ready to meet the current labor demand. STEM also encompasses the whole range of experiences and skills. I thought working with students on STEM education would bring a valuable contribution to a well-rounded education. Technology also gives learners an in-depth understanding of the world around them.

What has been the most rewarding part of coaching teams?

The most rewarding is a STEM education engages all students in learning by allowing investigative and hands-on activities.  One of the greatest strengths that my team has developed is team cohesion. They work hard to build each other up, and to encourage one another. Other benefits and strengths include problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, decision-making, leadership, entrepreneurship, acceptance of failure, and more.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting involved with robotics/starting teams?

I will tell people that are starting teams to stick with it, and if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. So make sure you are prepared for the ride, and have fun while doing it! I will tell students that just like any other sport, practice is important. Even LeBron James goes to practice to improve his skills. Remember not every match may be a win, but champions never quit!

STEM education stresses the value of failure as a learning exercise, which will enable students to embrace mistakes as part of the learning process. This allows students to build confidence and resilience, which will enable them to keep going when the going gets rough.

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