Nicholson Elementary students use robot to help community, win competition

Nicholson Elementary students use robot to help community, win competition

PICAYUNE, MS (WLOX) - Students, teachers and administrators at one Picayune elementary school are beaming with pride after its students won a national STEM contest, all while helping their city save thousands of dollars and man-hours.

Students from Nicholson Elementary teamed up with the Pearl River County robotics team and officials from Stennis Space Center to create an award winning, money saving robot.

The idea to work on the project came from Nicholson Elementary teacher Maureen Pollitz.

According to officials, 98 percent of students at the school receive free or reduced cost lunches. Funding is a constant struggle at the rural school, and Pollitz is always looking for ways to further enrich her students' education.

Pollitz, like many times before, turned to programs at NASA's Stennis Space Center for help.

"By being involved with NASA, the students at Nicholson Elementary have had the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities, which they normally would not have experienced. These programs are extremely important to our area," said Pollitz. "Nicholson Elementary students are at risk because of economic deficiencies outside their control that, in many cases, greatly hinder their learning connections. Being involved with NASA will reduce our student risk factors and help promote student achievement."

The goal was to enter Samsung's "Solve for Tomorrow" contest, where students have to use science, technology, engineering and math to solve a problem. Winning schools receive technology products and grants as a reward.

As the students found out, the City of Picayune has been dealing with an ongoing water drainage problem for quite some time. City officials said drainage pipes would become clogged at some locations, and that would cause overflows.

The only problem was the city had no way of pinpointing the locations of the clogs. That's where the students stepped in with the creation of a mobile robot small enough to travel throughout the drainage system and locate the clogs.

Now, the city will not have to spend thousands of dollars and man-hours digging up streets and pipes, searching for blockage locations. The students continue to make improvements to the robot, and plan to present a finished model to the city next month.

"It was a privilege to present a NASA education program demonstrating how STEM and the engineering design process can be applied to solve a real-world problem and help the local community," said NASA education specialist Steve Culivan.

After helping out the City of Picayune, the students entered their project into the "Solve for Tomorrow" contest, where they won one of the five grand prizes and were awarded $120,000.

Pollitz and her students then had the chance to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with NASA officials, astronauts and members of Congress. They even got to pay a visit to the White House.

The students were also invited to New York to be interviewed for a technology show segment at a major news channel.

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