COLUMBIA — The robot near a bookshelf in Bill Pabst's office at MU looks as if it's seen its better days. A single button on its shoulder, worn from countless pushes, activates a metal arm that reaches into a bucket and pulls out a piece of candy.
Pabst, a Missouri 4-H youth specialist, said a group of 4-H members built the robot three years ago. It has been to various demonstrations and used at the Missouri State Fair to promote the 4-H robotics project.
Missouri 4-H has been dabbling in robotics camps and workshops for almost 15 years but has only had a curriculum for five years, Pabst said.
"It's a very powerful learning tool," Pabst said. "It's not just about science and technology but also about teamwork and leadership and other youth development characteristics that 4-H was created to help develop."
Pabst has about 220 containers filled with Lego NXT, ROBOTIX, VEX or Arduino robot kits that he distributes to counties across the state.
Boone County 4-H clubs receive some of those kits. There has been a countywide robotics project since 2004.
"It's just fun to see the kids learn and grow in a project and see it click when they get the concept that we are learning about," said Angel Arnall, a Boone County 4-H robotics project leader.
About 15 members, ages 8 to 14, are enrolled in the Boone County 4-H robotics project this year.
The National 4-H Council started a partnership with the not-for-profit robotics company For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology in 2009. The partnership's goal is to get 1 million young people involved in science-related careers by 2013.
Julie Lyman, data coordinator for the Columbia Career Center, is one of four advisers for the Columbia Area Career Center Army Ants FIRST Robotics Competition team. This is the team's second year competing.
Lyman said last year's competition resembled a basketball game and robot teams faced off with each other to score goals.
The competition gives team members real-world experience, she said. It teaches them business and marketing skills to raise funds and work with strict deadlines.
If members are involved from elementary school through high school, "they will have a skill set that is cutting edge," she said.
Twelve members and advisers from the Columbia team will attend the state kick-off event at the Saint Louis Science Center on Jan. 7, but more students plan to participate.
"We currently have about 56 student members on our roster," Lyman said. "But as the building season proceeds and the time commitment is huge, sometimes the participation rate thins out."
The rest of the team will be watching the event broadcast from a reveal party at the career center. Lyman said those at the career center can then begin brainstorming. They will have six weeks to design and build the robot before the regional competition in March in St. Louis.
For more information on the Columbia Area Career Center Army Ants team, go to armyants.us.