BONDS mentors help youth build competition robots

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Tammie Moore
  • National Air and Space Intelligence Center
A combination of simple items like wires, gears and bolts unite a team of teens in the Dayton area with their desire to achieve a complex goal: create a robot.

The teens, along with a group of mentors, are part of a competitive Science Technology Engineering and Math group called BONDS which stands for Bringing Opportunities Near Dayton Students.

“The goal of the program is its namesake,” said Andrey Bilokonsky, one of two National Air and Space Intelligence Center team mentors. “We want to make sure we are exposing as many Dayton area youth to STEM as we can. We want to show them robots are cool, science is cool, and that they can also be fun. Doing this not only sets up the students for success in their lives, but it sets the United States up for strategic success.”

Bilokonsky’s passion for building things and a desire give back to the community lead him to become a BONDS mentor. In this role the Geospatial Intelligence Analysis Squadron Airman helps the students plan, design, and build a competition robots.

Fellow NASIC mentor Staff Sgt. Logan Aalders, also a member of GSIS, decided to join the team as a way to help youth bring life to their ideas.

“I know how important it is to be inspired as a young person,” he said. “I grew up in a small town, my graduating class was 75 students. I didn’t have the opportunities these kids have. I believe education and inspiration are two of the most valuable things in a young person's life.”
“The skills gained in the problem solving and fabrication process of this program are life skills that could set them on the path to becoming their generation’s great scientists and problem solvers,” Aalders said.

Earlier this month the BONDS team took home the Rookie All Star Award in their division at the FIRST Robotics Challenge World Championship in St Louis, Ill. During that challenge, the team’s robot crossed over castle-defense obstacles such as the cheval-de-fris and a portcullis. Additionally, it shot goals through a tower, manipulated devices, and did a pull-up.

“This is huge,” Bilokonsky said. “Of the 500 new teams this year, we were recognized as the one putting together the best program and doing the most for our community. It was really exciting.”

Not only did the team walk away with an award, but according to Aalders they also learned new skills.

“To me, the most rewarding part of being a mentor is seeing the kids apply a problem solving process on new scenarios without the help of the mentors,” Aalders said. “Seeing the students start solving problems on their own, and the pride they take when they have achieved the end goal, is what makes it worth it.”

The group meets Thursdays at 6 p.m. in the Teen Educational and Joint Adult Studio in Dayton. Here, 13-18 year-old team members learn about robotics; train to safely use the tools and machines in the workshop; and participate in mentor-lead marketing, science, and engineering sessions. The students also organize fundraising events to cover the cost of building competition robots.

“We have students from Oakwood, Miamisburg, the Dayton Early College Academy, Beavercreek, and many other communities,” Bilokonsky said. “We are looking to grow and share this (program) with as many students as possible. We are very excited for 2017 and hoping to at least double the size of our team. ”

In order to continue to grow the program, there is also a need for additional mentors.

“We are looking for more mentors so our students can continue to learn and build awesome robots,” Bilokonsky said. “NASIC has more than a few engineers with PhDs walking around the building. Imagine what a team with that level of knowledge and experience can help these teens create.”

For more information about becoming a mentor, contact Bilokonsky or Aalders.