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Dr. Susan L. Naylor honored at robotics tournament

Posted on Monday, March 23, 2009 · Volume: XLII · Issue: 6

Susan L. Naylor, Ph.D., was honored in Northwest Vista College’s robotics tournament as a distinguished scientist.
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Susan L. Naylor, Ph.D., was honored in Northwest Vista College’s robotics tournament as a distinguished scientist.clear graphic

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Susan L. Naylor, Ph.D., whose laboratory made vital contributions to mapping Chromosome 3 as part of the Human Genome Project, has received a few honors over the years, but this one left her speechless.

Northwest Vista College, part of the Alamo Colleges, hosted its first-ever FIRST Tech Challenge robotics tournament for high school students on March 15. It’s a tradition at such events to name divisions after distinguished scientists, and Dr. Naylor received an e-mail before the tournament telling her that there would be a Dr. Susan Naylor Division.

“I was flabbergasted,” said Dr. Naylor, a professor of cellular and structural biology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, who was invited to the tournament as a special guest. “An honor like this means so much because it comes from people totally outside my area of expertise.”

The other division was named for Francis X. Kane, Ph.D., a retired Air Force colonel who is often described as the father of global positioning systems.

First year for Northwest Vista to have high school camp
Northwest Vista started its Texas Institute for Education Robotics (TIER) program about three years ago, when it offered two-week summer camps for elementary and middle-school students, program director Andrew Schuetze said. After receiving additional funding from the Texas Workforce Commission, the program added a high school camp.

Winners qualify for national competition
The FIRST Tech Challenge, which was the local qualifying tournament for the national FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competition, was added to extend the summer camp experience, Schuetze said.

Inspiring the next generation of scientists
“Our grand goal here is increasing students in the pipeline going to science, technology, engineering and math careers,” he said. “The robots are an incredible hook — it’s something (the students) want to do. It’s inspirational and motivational to get them to go toward these careers.”

To build their robots, students use a standard kit that includes motors, sensors, software options, game controllers, Bluetooth communications, gears, a battery and a charger. A team of students builds each robot, and mentors work with each team.

The team then uses its robot to perform tasks at the tournament itself. The game changes each year. In this year’s game, Face Off!, the robots remove plastic hockey pucks from racks at the edge of the playing field and take them to the center to score.

Dr. Naylor’s division wins competition
Dr. Naylor went to the AT&T Center for the beginning of the tournament and then returned later to have her photograph taken with the winning alliance from the Dr. Susan Naylor Division.

“I was impressed by the kids,” Dr. Naylor said. “They had obviously put in hours and hours on their robots. This kind of experience motivates one to become a scientist!”

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