On a recent Saturday, I entered a side door in the Reeves Center and made my way up the stairs, following bright green signs to the home of Columbus Robotics, the local middle school and high school FIRST Robotics teams.

An adult leader greeted me and then introduced me to a young man who began my tour of the space by explaining this year’s challenge, showing me their robot and pointing out various areas of their space.

Next, another young man showed me the computers they use to program and design their robot. He also showed me the 3-D printer they use to make some of the parts needed for their robot. I was then introduced to a young woman who demonstrated what last year’s robot could do. (This year’s robot is currently only used in competitions.)

I was thoroughly impressed, not only with what these young people had developed, but also with the marvelous opportunity these teens were taking advantage of. They are able to explore various aspects of engineering —designing, building, programming, trouble shooting — as well as learning to work as a team to solve a problem. What a great way to find out if engineering is something they want to pursue!

My visit came during the Meet Your Makers open house. I visited several other sites and was equally impressed with the opportunities available to all ages in our community. The Foundation for Youth has a dedicated maker space complete with a 3-D printer, a laser cutter and a recording booth.

At the Digital Underground in the Bartholomew County Public Library, you can use their recording studio, various computer design programs and film equipment, including a green screen, all for free. If you’re like me and still have a collection of VHS recordings, you can have them transferred to a digital format also at no cost to you. Using their 3-D printer costs $1 per hour. Check out the library’s website for more specifics on their equipment and hours.

During my visits, I was reminded of what my children called the “making box,” a collection of egg cartons, paper towel tubes and other containers and supplies I kept in a large tote for them to use for projects. These sites have more sophisticated making boxes, allowing us to explore and learn how to use new technologies.

As technology continues to advance, jobs are becoming more dependent on knowing how to use these new tools. Some jobs are disappearing, but other jobs are being created. Our local colleges provide opportunities for students of all ages to develop skills needed for these new jobs. Students at Purdue Polytechnic can learn how to use a CNC mill, lathe and a 3-D printer, while Ivy Tech students can learn how to weld in the Toyota-sponsored welding lab.

I also visited Gallery 411 and w/, the Jonathon Nesci studio space, both downtown, to see some finished products. I enjoyed my afternoon and I am thankful for a community that promotes creativity and exploration.

So, what can you do with all this information? Encourage young people to explore their options and discover their interests. If you want to find out more about Columbus Robotics, visit their website at team4926.org, or their Facebook page. To see the robots in action you could attend their competition on March 29-30 at Center Grove High School. Admission is free.

Encourage those interested in developing new job skills to look into the college programs offered locally. Both colleges provide information about their programs on their websites.

Take advantage of these opportunities yourself; maybe you can find a new interest, learn new skills, or just enjoy seeing what others have created.

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