National Robotics Week: Alabama River Cellulose Inspires STEM Learning


Parent James Henry, Blacksher student Brandon Henry, GP Capital Projects Manager Steven Wilhelm, and Blackshear student Zachary Kelley prepare for the RiverBEST Regional Robotics Competition.

Consider this statistic: 75 percent of the fastest growing careers require substantial mathematics or science skills. But, predictions indicate that by 2018 there could be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs. So how do we inspire students to consider these paths and fill the gap? One way GP is inspiring students is through support of robotics programs in our facility communities.

This National Robotics Week, we spotlight Alabama River Cellulose and their ongoing support of a local BEST Robotics program – “Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology.”

Kathy Black, a local teacher at J.U. Blacksher Middle School near our Monroeville, Alabama facility called for help last fall. The annual RiverBEST Robotics program, a cross-county competition was coming up, and Black’s students needed some guidance. The competition included transforming a box of materials into a working robot to complete a task.

The Engineering Department at Alabama River Cellulose stepped up to help. Capital Projects Manager, Steven Wilhelm, Ph.D. checked in to see how the students were doing. 

“They had a design, but were having trouble with a turntable that they had to make from some fairly basic materials,” he said. “Their design was good but they needed help getting [everything] lined up.”

Working with equipment he already had at home, Wilhelm helped make some parts that fixed the problem – just in time for the pre-competition day. 

“The students sent me a video of their robot successfully picking up an object, carrying it across a distance and depositing it in a small container,” added Steven. “It was cool. They shot the video at the pre-competition trial day.”

Steve Green, a production leader at the mill, was also involved in the competition and served as judge. “I was proud to not only volunteer, but was honored to present a check for $5,000 to the RiverBEST program on behalf of the mill and the Georgia-Pacific Foundation.”

It’s easy to see how support plus mentorship can equal a boost in STEM learning – and that’s just simple math.