CRESTVIEW — To the intrigue of Davidson Middle School summer STEM campers, a special visitor did cartwheels, back flips, martial arts forms, danced and deflected a ping pong ball using his best soccer goalie moves.
Mr. Okaloosa, a robot, was only about a foot tall, but his capabilities gave the young future programmers a taste of the role robotics will soon fill in a technologically advancing world.
PHOTOS: View photos of Mr. Okaloosa at STEM camp>>
“The robotic and artificial intelligence will probably replace about 50 percent of all the jobs that you see today,” Dr. Paul Hsu, an Okaloosa County engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, told the campers.
Hsu and his information technology programmer Carlos Rivera brought Mr. Okaloosa to STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—camp July 15 as a demonstration of what robotics can do—and a taste of what is to come.
As examples of how robots are freeing humans to perform other tasks, Hsu described innovations such as driverless cars, hotel check-in kiosks, and existing technology such as grocery stores’ self-checkouts.
Hsu had recently returned from Washington, D.C., where he discussed with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell the importance of STEM education, especially in rural school districts.
Hsu praised Davidson robotics teacher Tim Sexton and his camp partner, Okaloosa STEMM Academy teacher Rob Jernigan, who formed a non-profit to conduct the summer program.
“This is really an excellent opportunity for kids to learn in North Okaloosa,” Hsu said.
“I’m tired of the south end getting all the notoriety—and the toys,” Sexton said. “I want our end to be just as important and noticed.”
Hsu said providing equal learning opportunities throughout the county, starting at Laurel Hill School in the north, is important.
“When the time comes, the kids from North Okaloosa have to face the same challenges as kids from Dallas or Los Angeles,” Hsu said, saying just because they come from a rural school district isn’t going to guarantee them preferential treatment.
“If you’re going to want my support and help, you’d better do something for North Okaloosa,” Hsu said. “I want to see more and more people understand education is important for a better North Okaloosa.”
Teachers like Sexton and Jernigan are integral to achieving that goal, Hsu said.
“Once day, I’m more than willing to give more money to get more teachers involved because teachers are the most important asset,” Hsu said.
Students responded favorably to robotics camp as they learned skills such as programming that they will take with them to middle school and high school technology classes.
“The secret is to make it fun,” Sexton said. Next summer’s camp will probably focus on coding and 3D printing, he said.
Bobby Weaver, who paid for his grandson, Paul Quarrier’s camp fee, said the boy found the program rewarding.
“He’s a smart little kid,” Weaver said. “He does the computer at the house for his Maw-Maw and me. He enjoys all this.”