Allison Auch works with a young T-ball

by Nicole Thom-Arens  | Submitted Photos

When Allison Auch sees a need for youth programming in the Minot community, she doesn’t wait for someone else to take the lead. After founding the Make a Scene Kids Theatre two years ago, she led the expansion of the community arts programming into the tech world forming the new venture Full STEAM Ahead, which combines science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. In January, through Minot Robotics, Allison coordinated the first-ever First Lego League regional competition in Minot—hosting 11 teams at Minot State University.

“My husband always says, ‘Why can’t you just do it for your kid?’ Because we easily could have just had our team and done nothing more,” Allison explains. “When I looked into the program and saw what First Lego League offered, I thought it was just phenomenal, and then I reached out to a couple of funders and they were on board 100 percent, so when I saw that was going to be easy, I said, ‘Why wouldn’t we open it up to everybody?’”

“I think Alli’s been fantastic for our community,” says Janna McKenchnie, whose daughter competed on Allison’s robotics team. “Whatever need Alli can find that she can fill, then she’s all on board.”

Funding for the project came in the form of 11 robotics kits teams were able to borrow from Mid Dakota Education Cooperative, while the Minot Area Community Foundation and United Way covered the $300 fee for each team to acquire the Lego mission sets and mats.

Each First Lego League team had to compete in four areas—robot design, project presentation, core values presentation, and a robot run through several challenges predetermined by First Lego League.

“As a coach you really are there to guide the team. You’re guiding the kids—helping them when they get stuck and guiding them through those processes,” Allison explains.

Allison, who is a nurse practitioner by trade and raising two young girls, knew she wanted to organize an all-girls team from the beginning.

“With the research, statistically, they say if you don’t introduce girls specifically to technology in the third or fourth grade level, by sixth grade, they’re already developing those thoughts that they’re inferior,” says Allison. “I wanted to give them (the team of five girls ranging in age from 9 to 14) an opportunity to just meld together and really develop a strong feeling that they could do this.”

Allison’s team, The Masked Waterbots, advanced to the state competition and took first place out of 40 teams in the project round where the team presented a solution to a water problem.

“They decided to create an app that would tell consumers how much water was used in clothing creation,” Janna explains. “As it stands right now, it needs work, but they met with a computer science student at Minot State and he showed them how to create this app and how to write the code for the different things that they were doing. It was a wonderful learning experience.”

“When you look at where the world is going and the number of computer science jobs that are going to be needed—just how it is going to infiltrate into every aspect of the world—we cannot allow them to fall behind,” Allison stresses. “They have to be comfortable with it no matter what field they’re going into.”   

The Masked Waterbots

Nicole Thom-Arens is a writer and an assistant professor of communication arts at Minot State University where she teaches journalism and communication theory courses and advises the student newspaper the Red & Green.