‘LEGO tree’ at the World of Energy’s Festival of Trees highlights students and STEM

Among the trees decorated this year at the World of Energy’s Festival of Trees, a kid-favorite is a tree with a yellow LEGO toy head as a tree-topper and wreath and ball LEGO ornaments donning its branches. It even has LEGO ornaments uniquely painted and drawn by students from YouthLink’s FIRST LEGO League.

LEGO tree on display at the World of Energy's Festival of Trees

Duke Energy’s World of Energy education center at Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, S.C., is celebrating its Festival of Trees now through Jan. 3, 2020.

The display, open to the public, consists of 22 trees decorated by local nonprofits, businesses and organizations. The display features a voting contest, and the top three trees with the most votes will receive $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000 for a nonprofit of choice.

The tree was decorated by “CodeTrek Boom Squad” and “Here Comes the Boom,” which consists of elementary students across Oconee County who belong to YouthLink’s FIRST LEGO League.

FIRST LEGO League is an international program in which teams (students in fourth through eighth grades) research real-world problems (food safety, recycling, energy, etc.) and are challenged to develop a solution. Teams must also design, build, program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORM® and compete on a table-top playing field.

“CodeTrek Boom Squad” and “Here Comes the Boom” with YouthLink’s FIRST LEGO League make linked paper chains for their LEGO tree at the World of Energy.

“For the 2019-2020 season, our teams are tasked with identifying a problem with a building or public space in their community, design and share the solution and refine the solution,” YouthLink Executive Director Joshua Blassingame said. “Along our journey, we are developing critical thinking and team-building skills, presentation skills and practicing the program’s core values – discovery, teamwork and good sportsmanship. It all adds up to tons of fun while we learn to apply science, technology, engineering and math concepts (STEM), plus a big dose of imagination to solve a problem.”

YouthLink students create LEGO ornaments for their LEGO tree at the World of Energy’s Festival of Trees.

Since 2015, YouthLink has served more than 2,100 students in Oconee County between the ages of five and 19. According to Blassingame, 85 percent of all students who participated in a YouthLink STEM event expressed interest in pursuing a career in STEM.

One YouthLink student said, “Through FIRST LEGO League, I learned how to live my life by the core values. Now I appreciate how important it is to listen to everyone’s ideas and work together to solve a problem.” 

YouthLink FIRST LEGO League robotics teams demonstrate a table-tops scenario in the “Coopertition Scrimmage” at the World of Energy, where students competed against each other in advance of state qualifiers.

With South Carolina’s advanced manufacturing renaissance, the state ranks 15th in the United States with $30.86 billion in manufacturing exports. Companies like BMW, Volvo, Boeing, Lookheed Martin and Michelin now have manufacturing plants in South Carolina, and there has been a startling recognition that S.C. workers lacked technical skills needed for advanced manufacturing jobs. There have been statewide efforts in technical schools and workforce development programs to prepare future workers, but leaders in communities recognize that addressing skills gaps early in a student’s academic career is essential, Blassingame said.

At a recent Hidden Figures Coding and Robotics Camp with YouthLink, one student said, “I just really liked being able to work with the robots. It was fun, and I want to do this as my job one day.”

YouthLink and its FIRST LEGO League is helping its children succeed in STEM.

The “LEGO tree” is just one of 22 creative, beautiful trees at the World of Energy’s Festival of Trees. Be sure to visit the display to vote for your favorite – there are many worthy organizations represented, and visitors are sure to pick a tree that supports a good cause. The display is open 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, now through Jan. 3, 2020. The World of Energy is closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Questions? Contact the World of Energy at 864.873.4600.

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