Today’s youth – glued to screens, tinkering with their electronics. That’s often the stereotype, but when WHQ News entered an Amway warehouse not far from World Headquarters one recent evening, young people weren’t snapping and sharing photos with friends. Instead, they were creating code, designing machines and building robots.
More than 30 high school boys and girls from the area make up the Amway-sponsored COMETS robotics team that competes against other youth worldwide. Teams are giving a problem or challenge to solve using STEM activities – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Last year, more than 3,000 teams with roughly 75,000 students from 24 countries participated in different regional and global competitions.
“When kids are young, they want to be a scientist or astronaut,” said Paul D’Amato, co-coach of the COMETS. “Sometime in high school they lose that passion. This program keeps them engaged in those kind of STEM activities. It also creates an environment where that is encouraged.”
Kids on the COMETS are learning skills sometimes not acquired until graduate school, including computer-aided design (CAD), electrical wiring, programming – even marketing and the development of business plans.
When we met up with COMETS Team Captain Olivia Engvall, she and a small team were working in the field reprogramming the radio on one of the “bots.”
“Coming out of the program, I have learned so much about mechanical and electrical systems of a robot,” said Engvall. “I’ve also learned many leadership skills by leading small teams and reaching out to sponsors doing demonstrations.”
Keeping local kids interested in math and science is one reason Amway sponsors the team. The business is also keen on inspiring young minds to acquire 21st century skills to ensure a pipeline of industrious, innovative talent well into the future.
“This is the future,” said Todd DeRoo, Amway Head of Engineering. “This is just one more example of an opportunity where young men and women are developing in science and technology and it’s key to us to be a part of that.”
Indeed, Amway will continue to need the next generation of Newtons, especially as the business continues to invest in the use of robotics and vision systems to improve operational safety, quality and costs – improvements tangible to ABOs working to sell Amway products to customers around the world.
“Robotics in manufacturing is becoming absolutely important. In order to compete internationally, we need to automate, and it means we need to bring in engineering jobs,” D’Amato says. “We want to see those students come back here to West Michigan and get involved in companies like Amway to keep this economy going.”
Before the end of the year, Amway will install several industrial and collaborative robots in different manufacturing plants and labs in Ada and Buena Park, an investment of more than $2 million USD with plans to spend an additional $2 million in the coming years.
As automation becomes more mainstream, the need for talent will continue to grow. And judging from the incredibly focused and determined group of kids that make up the COMETS, Amway’s future is in excellent hands.