NORTHRIDGE – Working with LEGOs may seem like child’s play, but in the hands of several hundred students Saturday, the popular plastic toys were the building blocks for a working robot. More than 600 high school and middle school students from across Southern California came to California State University, Northridge, for robotics competitions designed to encourage students to consider careers in engineering. “We need to get kids interested in science and technology early on,” said Tarek Shraibati, event organizer and a CSUN manufacturing systems engineering and management lecturer. “Our society is more and more technology-driven, and if you don’t have the knowledge and understanding of how technology works and what its impact is on society, you’re in trouble,” he said. Eleven-year-olds Sergio Ramirez of Van Nuys, Daniel Kosykh of Sherman Oaks and Josh Forman of Van Nuys – all of whom attend Millikan Middle School – said they ended up rebuilding their robot and redoing its programming when the first try didn’t work. “We got to the point where we only wanted to perfect it,” Josh said. “We’d get to the end of the (class) period and we’d be frustrated because we just wanted to see if the mission worked.” The middle school students competed in an “Ocean Odyssey” event that required them to program their LEGO robots to put them through an ocean spill cleanup operation in a timed exercise. Students also had to give an oral presentation on people’s impact on the oceans. The high school students built larger metal robots that scooped up foam balls and then dunked them into a plastic container some distance away in a competition called “The Half-Pipe Hustle.” Although women make up only about 12 percent of all engineers, Shraibati said, there were plenty of girls showing off their robotics skills, including 10 from the Brentwood-based Archer School for Girls. Debbie Lehman, mother of 11-year-old Emily Wishingrad of Santa Monica, said her daughter never played with LEGOs when she was younger and didn’t think she was good at math. But on Archer’s robotics team, she blossomed. “She had a feeling of empowerment,” Lehman said, watching the school’s CTRL-ALT-DELETE team compete. “(Math) is something she’s not bad at anymore.” Eleven-year-old Monica Figueroa of Mission Hills, who competed for Millikan, knows strong math skills will help her become a veterinarian. “A lot of people, when I say, ‘I like math,’ say, ‘That’s nerdy,”‘ Monica said. “But I tell them, ‘I don’t care what you think.”‘ Lisa M. Sodders, (818) 713-3663 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals Many young students decide math and science courses are boring or too hard, and don’t consider majoring in engineering, leading to a national shortage in qualified engineers. CSUN routinely gets calls from science and technology companies eager to hire the best and brightest CSUN can produce, as quickly as they graduate, Shraibati said. Sponsored by CSUN’s Manufacturing Systems Engineering and Management Department and US FIRST, a nonprofit multinational organization, the robotics competitions show kids a pathway to careers where “they can make money, make a difference in the world, and have fun,” said Nancy McIntyre, a science teacher at Chaminade College Preparatory School. Even if the students choose another career field, skills like teamwork, “gracious professionalism,” critical thinking, logic and strong math abilities will serve them well on the job, Shraibati and McIntyre said. Students said they liked the challenge of building the robots, getting the computer programming to work and discovering that math and engineering could be absorbing and fun.