Isaac Newton was a genius … but he couldn’t build a robot

Guest Opinion

To paraphrase an old saying; Give a kid a toy and they might play for an afternoon … but, teach a kid to build a robot and they might change the world forever.

Beth Hanning, and Brian “Mitch” Mitchell each served our country for many years in the U.S. Air Force. They have transitioned into civilian careers and have earned impressive professional titles. But don’t let their notable credentials and resumes mislead you. Ms. Hanning and Mr. Mitchell are, in fact, Florida farmers. And quite frankly, there is no calling or career more important or honorable than an American farmer.

However, while most Florida farmers may grow sugarcane, vegetables or the best oranges and grapefruit in the world, Ms. Hanning and Mr. Mitchell are using robots to plant the seeds of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into the fertile minds of some amazing young students. And make no mistake about it; their crop will yield nothing less than a better future of Florida, America and, quite frankly, our world, our solar system, and beyond. 

Question: What do Estonia, Vietnam, Ireland, Slovenia and Latvia have in common?

Answer: Together with Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, they are among the 27 countries which rank above the United States in math and science education. 

America was built upon entrepreneurial and corporate innovation, exploration and discoveries in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And with it, America helped change the world.

As the world moved into the 20th century (I did the math … that’s 1899 > 1900) so much scientific, and technological progress had been made in so short a period of time that C. H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C., is famously credited with assuring Americans; “Everything which can be invented has been invented.” (For the sake of accuracy, history got the attribution wrong; see London’s Punch magazine, 1899.)

The point is that every dedicated teacher, every cutting-edge company, large and small, every U.S. agency and branch of the military knows that America has no guarantees, no birthright, no divine-right and no copyright on innovation. There are no promises that we will continue to lead the world in science and technology. While America is producing scientists and engineers by the thousands, our international competitors are producing them by the hundreds of thousands.

Few American students are being challenged and encouraged to seek careers in the STEM fields. And if those fields are not sown today there will be no harvest in the future.  As a state and nation, we don’t need another lawyer or journalist. We don’t need another actor or athlete, rapper or politician.  We need STEM teachers who will challenge and fire up the imagination of their students.  We need researchers who will push back the boundaries of science and medicine. We need young minds that will rip the word “impossible” from their dictionaries and relegate it to the flame of their Bunsen-burner.

Hanning and Mitchell understand that our future American scientists, engineers, and mathematicians do not grow on trees. In fact, 17th century England’s Isaac Newton did not fall from a tree; the apple from the tree dropped on him. But the amazing Newton was prepared, educated and understood the significance of the apple falling on his head … and Newton thereby changed the world.

In much the same way that Newton was ready for the apple, Hanning and Mitchell want their STEM students to be ready when their proverbial apple drops from the tree. 

“Beth Hanning is the STEM Education Outreach Director for the Doolittle Institute and robotics tournament coordinator for the Northwest Florida Region.” Brian “Mitch” Mitchell is the STEM Education Outreach for Eglin’s Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate. Together, with a lot of volunteers and teachers, they help coordinate education and tournament competition for middle school and high school robotic teams from Florida and across the nation.

If you’re a parent who has a bright young student, a budding Isaac Newton, drop an e-mail to Beth Hanning ( She won’t drop an apple on you, but she can point you and your little genius toward robots … extremely cool robots. And if your student follows into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and then goes on to change the world … won’t you be proud?

Now, if Ms. Hanning and Mr. Mitchell could only help kids design and build a robot which could be programmed to clean up their messy bedroom … Oh well, a mom can dream.


Laurie J. Bartlett, M.S HRM is a former candidate for the Florida House of Representatives and entrepreneur. She is enthralled with the dynamics of the STEM program and the brilliant young minds working diligently to achieve their dreams.


Editor’s Note: Through December 10, 2016, online entries will be accepted for the STEM competition for $200,000 in scholarships. Submit entries directly at Watch our website for more details on this competition to find female STEM stars.


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