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Robotics engineer Mike Hector teaches Melrose Elementary School students about robots to kick off STEAM week

Melrose Elementary School students kicked off STEAM Week with a virtual assembly hosted by robotics engineer Mike Hector, who happens to be an alumnus of the small school in Roseburg and a roboticist for the top tech companies in the world.

“It takes a lot of STEM skills to design and build these robots,” Hector said. “But it also takes a lot of creativity to come up with new ideas to make them better. When I was a student at Melrose, I loved playing with marbles at recess, running the Melrose mile, and going to the beach during the fifth grade coast trip. And along with my reading, writing and math classes, I also built robots.”

Hector went on to attend Jo Lane Middle School, Roseburg High School, University of Portland and Oregon State University, continuing to focus more on engineering and robotics at each school.

Hector hosted two interactive presentations, one for students in grades K-2 and another for students in grades 3-5.

“I’m going to talk to you today about how I use the things I learned at Melrose to build awesome robots,” he said. “I built many different kinds of robots. I built robots that work in factories, which are really good at doing the same thing over and over — like these robots, which, all they do is put these boxes in a neat little row and then stack them on a conveyor belt. I’ve also worked on more experimental robots like this walking robot, which I built at Oregon State University.”

Hector got connected with the school when he donated to the Lego MakerSpace at the school through DonorsChoose, a nonprofit to help raise funds for schools. He left a message with his donations and Principal Tammy Rasmussen reached out to connect.

“I love hearing about why Melrose was special to people,” she said. “He talked about how, when he was a student here that he was in a Lego Robotics Club. He took that love of building robots from elementary school, into his career. And now builds these high tech, super secret projects. That’s his life now and so he just really built a love of Lego and robots and engineering, through some of his experiences here at Melrose.”

The session for grades 3-5 was hosted by Shannon Ruiz, a fourth grade teacher. Ruiz was Hector’s first grade teacher at St. Joseph’s Catholic School, after which Hector attended Melrose for fourth and fifth grade.

When Ruiz had a chance to speak to him before the presentation he recalled that when he was in first grade she called him a scientist.

“He still has memories of putting that in his head, helping him to believe that that could be a possibility,” she said, adding that she believes all her students can achieve greatness.

“He did such a good job with the kids, and it was breathtaking to see him,” Ruiz said. “It made me proud and almost brought tears to my eyes to see this young man that I taught so long ago, doing some really cool things: inspiring children, my class, my own children. It just really came full circle and felt good and made me proud of the work that we do as teachers. He had someone amazing teachers along the way who fondly remember him. He’s kind of my own personal celebrity.”

Hector explained different functions of robots to the students and gave students the opportunity to ask questions or make comments about some of the robots he helped designed throughout the years. While Hector is a robotics engineer, the work is done as a team.

As the presentation went on, the questions and comments centered around a lot of the same things Hector said he takes into account at the start of a new project.

“You guys are really thinking like engineers now,” Hector said.

By the end of the presentation, each student was given a small bag of Legos and an engineering challenge.

Students were taught to engineer using a process that goes from planning to creating to problem solving.

In the fifth grade class taught by Jennifer Luther students were asked to design a robot that would make life easier for someone else.

In Ruiz’s class, students built catapults, while other classes were asked to develop a faster way of transportation to France and others were tasked with creating a drawbridge.

“It was fascinating, seeing them realize that maybe they didn’t have to use all of their pieces — that maybe less was more — to build a sturdier catapult,” Ruiz said. “Not everyone was successful so that was another discussion that we had about, ‘It’s okay to fail.’ We persevere and it ended very positively and we’re going to try again and they were drawing. They did all the steps in the engineering process.”

Ryder Sawyer, 13, organizes youth vendor fair in Tenmile on Friday

TENMILE — Ryder Sawyer, a seventh grader at Camas Valley Charter School, has had several business ventures, and now he’s bringing other young entrepreneurs together.

Ryder has organized the Youth Vendors Fair, which will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Friday at 6721 Highway 42, behind Treats Highway 42 Cafe, in Tenmile.

“Hopefully they can sell their stuff there and hopefully they’ll start a bank account and all that,” Ryder said. Representatives from a local banking branch are expected to attend and help the young business owners with any finance-related questions.

There will be about 20 to 25 vendors, all between the ages of 5 and 15, with a variety of items for sale from eggs and baked goods to planter boxes and seeds.

Ryder said he hopes this will be the first of several events, but no future dates have been set yet.

Ryder had started setting up his own booth with Bigfoot-related items, which he also sells through the Porter Creek Mercantile. He got the idea to sell Bigfoot items after a Sutherlin woman reported hitting the creature near Porter Creek.

Hats are the most popular item, but Ryder also creates stickers, jewelry, slingshots and other items with a Bigfoot theme.

He’s also recently started selling feed, teaching karate, and doing odd jobs around town.

“I just want to make lots of money and have a good house when I grew up,” he said, adding that Warren Buffett is his idol.

Ryder did two book reports on Warren Buffett, although he said those were for two different books.

Ryder has been participating in distance learning this school year, but participates in class virtually alongside his peers.

During an assignment earlier this year, when students were asked to reflect on 2020, Ryder said the year had been profitable.

It was quite a different answer from the other students, according to his teacher LeAnn Graham.

“Most everybody was like: terrible, awful, and then I got to Ryder. I said, ‘so Ryder, ‘what, what’s your word’ and he said ‘profitable,’” Graham said. “The fact that he is looking at it more as an opportunity is just really a cool mindset”

Ryder was able to get the word out about the youth vendor fair through his classmates and via social media to children throughout the county.

Case numbers down and COVID-19 vaccination schedule may get a boost in near future

The Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team reported just four new cases Sunday, the lowest number since Dec. 22.

“We are hopeful that we can keep this downward trend going,” the team said in a press release Sunday.

It reported nine new cases Monday, more than on Sunday but still a low number compared to the average daily count in recent weeks.

Twelve county residents are hospitalized with the disease, eight locally and four out of the area.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 178 new cases and two new deaths Monday. It reported 234 new cases and no new deaths Sunday.

Sunday was the one year anniversary of the first COVID-19 death in Oregon.

The health authority said 1,346,090 first and second vaccine doses had been administered across the state as of Monday, and 493,440 people have been fully vaccinated.

Douglas County held a vaccination clinic for seniors at the Douglas County Fairgrounds Saturday, at which 800 vaccine doses were administered.

The county’s initial projections were for 700 seniors to be vaccinated. But the volunteers administering the shots were able to draw up doses so efficiently that an additional 100 doses were available and put into residents’ arms, the response team said in a press release Sunday.

It said not a single dose was wasted.

In Douglas County, according to the health authority, 18,506 people have been vaccinated or 16.5% of the population. Of those, 8,393 were fully vaccinated and 10,113 had received the first in a two-dose sequence. Saturday’s vaccination clinic does not appear to have been fully counted by the state, which can lag behind in reporting by a few days, and will likely increase those reported numbers.

The county remains one of the lowest for vaccination rates in the state, but has improved its standing to sixth from the bottom.

Currently, Columbia, Morrow, Umatilla, Grant and Malheur Counties are those with lower vaccination rates than Douglas County.

Tiny Wheeler County remains at the top of the list for its vaccination rate of 33%. That amounts to just 475 vaccinations given though, since its total population is 1,438 people.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday that Oregon’s vaccine schedule will remain the same for now, but the state will adopt President Joe Biden’s plan of opening up vaccines to everyone May 1 if sufficient vaccine supply is guaranteed.

Brown said in a press conference she is committed to offering vaccines first to people with underlying health conditions and frontline workers. Currently, Oregonians 45 and older with specific high risk health conditions are scheduled to begin receiving vaccines March 29.

Also on that date, pregnant women of all ages will become eligible to receive vaccines.

So will migrant and seasonal farm workers, seafood workers, agricultural workers, people in low-income or congregate senior housing, people experiencing homelessness, people displaced by wildfires and wildland firefighters.

Other frontline workers are currently scheduled to become eligible May 1, along with people aged 16 to 44 with specific high risk health conditions.

As of Friday, the governor said the state was 47% through with vaccinating seniors, and Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said the state had essentially finished vaccinating education workers.

TheCenters for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last week for people who have been fully vaccinated, meaning two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can safely visit with other fully vaccinated people without masks or physical distancing, and visit with low-risk, unvaccinated people from a single household without masks or physical distancing.

Americans still haven’t reached herd immunity, so fully vaccinated people should still wear masks, maintain social distance and avoid crowds when socializing with an unvaccinated person at increased risk of severe illness or with people who have a high risk person in their households.

Masks should also continue to be worn in public or when gathering with members of more than one other household, CDC said.