The Robot Zone set to open Saturday in downtown Potsdam

Lori Green, a sixth-grade special education teacher at Salmon River Central School, right, works with Janice Marlow-Santamore, a sixth-grade teacher at Salmon River Central School, to program a Lego Mindstorm robot Tuesday at the Robot Zone in downtown Potsdam. Photo by Jason Hunter, Watertown Daily Times.

Lori Green, a sixth-grade special education teacher at Salmon River Central School, right, works with Janice Marlow-Santamore, a sixth-grade teacher at Salmon River Central School, to program a Lego Mindstorm robot Tuesday at The Robot Zone in downtown Potsdam. Photo by Jason Hunter, Watertown Daily Times.

Tucked away next to Verizon at 71 Market St., science, technology, engineering and math education business The Robot Zone has moved its operations off campus, and is getting ready for a grand opening this Saturday.

For two years, the business has operated out of Clarkson University’s Peyton Hall, working to meet the growing needs of preparing K-12 students in STEM education, but according to CEO Amanda E. Clapper, those needs have outgrown what can be done on campus.

That’s why the business is moving into the space downtown, which includes a large room for classes, storage for robot kits, and a machine shop to allow high school students and college mentors to work on competition robots. There’s even space to hold birthday parties after hours.

Mrs. Clapper, who’s been involved in team robotics since high school, said that while volunteering in Clarkson’s robotics mentoring program, she and her business partner, Benjamin D. Baumgardner, found that the need for STEM education help was outpacing what program volunteers with the college could provide.

“We noticed that the volunteer hours that Clarkson could offer could no longer meet the demand of the community for having STEM,” said Mrs. Clapper, a village resident who graduated with a degree in engineering and management from Clarkson. “So with a professor there, and with the Shipley Center, we decided that the best way to do it would be to have a company where we could, after graduation, funnel the students from the local colleges who are interested in this effort and have them stay local.”

Mrs. Clapper said the business, which currently employs two full-timers — her and Mr. Baumgardner — and about 15 area college students as interns during the summer, will offer instruction on robotics and 3-D printing on site for K-12 teachers and students.

She said the partners chose to open their business in Potsdam because they have a close relationship with Clarkson and because their “beta” school districts, which they have worked with for three years, are nearby.

“We use the programs locally first, because we have close networks with the teachers here, and then we grow it, and offer it to other schools in the north country,” she said.

She said the work is important for students because it helps them learn STEM concepts without knowing it, through activities where they compete to build robots and have to solve problems.

“They don’t realize that they’re learning how to program and build, because they’re just focused on the game aspect of it,” she said.

The business has also been important for teachers in the beta school districts like Salmon River Central.

Janice M. Marlow-Santamore, Malone, one of three teachers from Salmon River who were learning to program Lego robots Tuesday, said materials, training, and mentors from The Robot Zone have made Salmon River’s Lego Robotics project a success, and have allowed students to “become experts” in programming and designing robots.

Mrs. Marlow-Santamore, who teaches sixth grade STEM, social studies and English language arts, said without the help of the business, teachers would have to spend a great deal more time helping students understand STEM concepts, having less expertise with the material.

“During the summer I worked for BOCES and I didn’t have their help, and (I spent) countless hours troubleshooting, trying to help the students be successful,” she said.

Along with offering classes at schools across the north country, The Robot Zone will provide a 3-D printing service to the public for a fee, according to Mrs. Clapper.

She said customers can bring in plans for what they want to print, from logos to cups — even wedding invitations, which she created for some of her guests when she got married — and she and Mr. Baumgardner will work with them to get the object printed to spec. Initially, this service will be offered free at a 3-D printing learning day, and will then cost $20 per month, allowing customers to print one item. That cost will be cut in half if customers also sign up for one of The Robot Zone’s monthly apprentice programs, which cost between $15 and $60 per month.

More information about The Robot Zone programs, most of which take place on weekends, are available on the business’s website.

The business’s grand opening will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at its new Market Street location, and will include robotics activities, 3-D printing demonstrations and a ribbon cutting.

Information

What: The Robot Zone

Initial hours: Monday through Thursday 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: 71 Market St., Potsdam

Contact: Amanda E. Clapper, The Robot Zone, (516) 900-7836, aclapper@therobotzone.com, Website: bit.ly/1qfmv5u, Facebook: bit.ly/1RxsdGx.

By Alan Rizzo, Watertown Daily Times