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Media Seminar for Students Adds Art to the Science of Robot-Building
For high school students in California's Antelope Valley recently, the three Rs were Robotics, Releases, and Ratings on January 26 as media professionals shared tips on getting their stories in print and on the air.

Student robotics team leader asks question. Image left: Alan Tepe, robotics team leader from Lancaster High School in California, asked questions of media members at a seminar January 26 hosted by NAA Dryden Flight Research Center's Office of Academic Investments. (NASA photo by Tom Tschida)

The Dryden Flight Research Center's Office of Academic Investments hosted a gathering of robot-building students in Palmdale, Calif., as part of the NASA-sponsored Robotics Education Project. The high-schoolers are becoming media-savvy as part of the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition. Participating high school teams use a standard package of parts and healthy imagination to create unique robots designed to perform specific tasks in competition, and cooperation, with robots from other teams. Adelphia television news anchor Bob Montague gave the students a tip on conducting television interviews: "If you talk on what you believe in, it will come across on camera." Jim Skeen, a writer for the Los Angeles Daily News whose beat includes NASA Dryden, urged the students to be short, succinct, but colorful when writing about their robotics projects in plain language, devoid of technical jargon.

Yoab Martinez of the Hispanic newspaper La Prensa said his publication likes to get articles submitted in Spanish, but will translate English news items for Latino residents, estimated to represent between a quarter and a third of the Antelope Valley's population. NASA Dryden public affairs specialist Beth Hagenauer reminded the students to stack the most important elements of their story at the top of a release, to catch the eye of often-harried editors. Carmen Richard, student media marketing leader for the Lancaster, Calif., High School team, offered encouragement to members of newer teams from other local high schools. In addition to Lancaster High, the gathering drew students and adult mentors from Highland High School, Palmdale, Calif., and Tehachapi, Calif., High School.

The student teams conduct media relations campaigns culminating in the public debut of their robots a few days before the mechanical creations must be shipped to the competition. If the goal of the robotics competition is to kindle interest in science and engineering, it also has inspired a number of team members to pursue their dreams of communications careers.

By Frederick A. Johnsen
NASA Public Affairs