Grange Fair preview: 4-H takes new school approach, showcases robots

4-H members work on a robot that launches T-shirts and wiffle balls. The robot will be on display at the Grange Fair.
4-H members work on a robot that launches T-shirts and wiffle balls. The robot will be on display at the Grange Fair. Photo provided

If you think Centre County 4-H is all about livestock and agriculture programs, think again.

The county’s 4-H program has a new project, and it features robots, not animals.

Centre County 4-H educator Stacie Hritz said 4-H has a new mission to focus on more STEM-related projects that target science, technology, engineering and math.

“We decided to try and get more involved in STEM education,” Hritz said. “That was a big transition for us. We want all 4-H projects to go back to science education.”

The robotics program was started four years ago for 14- to 19-year-old members.

A team of about 15 students and seven mentors build robots, enter competitions and work with professional engineers to gain life skills and knowledge of each project, Hritz said.

This will be the second year the program’s work will be showcased at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair, on Aug. 22 at the youth building.

“It’s hard work, but we have a lot of fun and get excited to show our work,” said Sarah Dangelo, 17, of State College.

Dangelo has been a part of the 4-H robotics team for two years and has been to national robotics competitions.

The robots take about six weeks to build, she said, and the 4-H robotics team has created about half a dozen robots.

At the fair, they’ll showcase a 120-pound, 2-foot-wide robot that launches T-shirts and wiffle balls. Dangelo said it was designed to be used at State College Spikes games.

“It’s been used at one game, but it’s also been used at other events around the county,” she said. “Other robots we make are used to pick things up, stack plastic totes and drive around.”

The 4-H robotics team is also a partner with FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — a national tech-based organization that promotes STEM projects and competitions.

“It takes a lot of people with a lot of different skills, like math knowledge and programming, to put something together,” Dangelo said.

But if you’re interested in traditional 4-H shows at the Grange Fair, Centre County 4-H members will also participate in livestock projects, junior shows and livestock sales, Hritz said.

“The Grange Fair is their time to show the public the things they’ve been working on,” she said. “It takes all year to plan the shows, finalize registration and contact buyers for the livestock shows and sales. And when everything is rounded up, we reach out to about 20 judges.”

About 400 students participate in Centre County 4-H each yar.