Get to Know 2019 Rural Dakota Pride Honoree, Jim Lane, Groton

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When Jim Lane hears his peers make negative comments about “kids these days.” He is quick to disagree.

“I get to work with kids who put an incredible amount of work into their projects. Their work ethic, fortitude and personal drive are why I like volunteering as the robotics coach,” Jim explains, about the Groton High School students who make up the robotics team he has coached since 2011.

Robotics is a unique extra-curricular activity where teens are given the rules of a game, and then expected to build and program a robot to play that game, competing against another robot built by an opposing team. Governed by an international organization, Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, the youth compete on the state level to qualify for regional, national and international competitions.

As the coach, Jim sees his role as practice organizer, supply provider, provider of transportation and teaching youth problem solving skills. “I don’t tell them anything. Robotics is not like basketball or football where the coach tells kids how to play the game,” he says, explaining that when the teens ask him questions, he asks them more questions. “Robotics teaches them how to problem solve by helping them think through issues. All their lives, they will have to solve problems. No matter what they do or where they go, there will be a problem. Whether it is a mechanical problem or a people problem.”

To emphasize his point further, Jim shares a story about a time when the Groton team qualified for a nation competition with more than 350 teams. “Our team was doing very well and close to the top at the end of the first day of matches. Then, their robot broke in last seconds of competition.”

The teens painstakingly took their robot apart, spending hours testing the parts to locate the problem. By 10 p.m. when the facility closed for the night, they were forced to leave their robot, which they still needed to finish putting back together. The next morning, they arrived early to finish putting the robot back together.

The Groton team ended up placing third overall in their division. “They won because they spent the time working on their robot, finding the problem and fixing it.”

Problem solving is something Jim enjoys. It’s a skill that comes in handy. He is a small business owner of a handyman business, Jim of All Trades. “I enjoy projects and I have a curious mind. The things I read for pleasure are Discovery Magazine and National Geographic.”

Jim first got involved in coaching robotics when his son, Logan, was in high school. Logan had been taking a robotics unit and the teacher learned of a competition in Sioux Falls. Logan and some of his friends were interested in participating, but they needed a parent to provide transportation. When the teacher asked Jim, he said, “yes.”

Then, Jim organized some practices…he was hooked. Even after Logan graduated, Jim is still involved.

“I like watching kids take ownership of their robot and the work it takes,” Jim says.

Along with the opportunity to mentor local youth, Jim appreciates the opportunity to give back to the community he’s called home since 1976. “I like the fact it’s a small town and, when my kids were young and running around, people knew who they were and where they belonged. If they got into trouble, people know where to come.”

Jim has five grown children, Jamie Forrest, CJ, Lincoln, Logan and Marshall. In addition to robotics, Jim and his wife, Melodee, volunteer their time in other areas of the community as well. A few years ago, couple dedicated two years to organizing efforts to fundraise and build a warming house for the community ice rink.

To learn more about the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, visit https://www.roboticseducation.org/.

More about Rural Dakota Pride

Jim is one of five volunteers recognized for their selfless contributions to South Dakota rural communities by South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) with the 2019 Rural Dakota Pride Honor August 31, during the 2019 South Dakota State Fair.

“Community is created and maintained through the efforts of volunteers,” explains Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director.

The other 2019 Rural Dakota Pride honorees include: Angie Mueller, Ethan; Jeannie Hofer, Huron; Rich Bakeberg, Frederick and Franklin Olson, Pierpont.

As an organization which serves South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers, Doug Sombke, SDFU President, says Farmers Union recognizes the important role strong rural communities play in supporting agriculture producers and their families.

“South Dakota’s agriculture producers and their communities are closely connected. In good economic times they both prosper. When the economy is down, like today with the trade war, low commodity prices and extreme weather conditions, they both feel the pain,” Sombke said. “The Rural Dakota Pride honor is one of many ways SDFU works to show our support for both.”


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