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Why Learn About Robotics at Oak Ridge High School?

In this class, students may come for the machines, but the leave lifelong learners. Meet the teacher who's molding bright futures.

By Teree Caruthers on July 13, 2022

Mark Buckner spent more than 30 years as a research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Misty Wong

A major advantage for Oak Ridge Schools is its ability to draw talent from the surrounding scientific community.

Mark Buckner, who has a doctorate in nuclear engineering, for example, spent more than 30 years as a research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Today, Buckner shares his experience with students in the robotics course he teaches at Oak Ridge High School.

What experience do you bring to your classes?

I left ORNL as a Distinguished Research Scientist. I spent 32-plus years in applied research and development, working on some of our nation’s most challenging and critical problems. The latter half of my career, I led a group in the critical infrastructure space — the smart grid area for the Department of Energy. I’ve worked in new product design. I’ve worked in pulling together pretty diverse, skilled individuals to create teams to do things that have never been done before from an R&D perspective.

How do you translate that experience into the skills you teach?

My students learn to work as part of the team. They learn to identify real-world problems, come up with potential solutions to those problems and then to develop solutions while working iteratively and incrementally with our customers, just like they would for a new product design.

How will STEM courses help prepare students for college and in-demand careers?

STEM teaches students those critical thinking, problemsolving skills. It’s not just about the technology because tech is going to change. So what the students really need to learn is how to learn. That’s one of the things that we’re really emphasizing as we work with the students.

My goal is for students to leave this program with three options. One is to go to college and pursue their career goals. Another is that they would have the skills it takes to start their own business. And a third is that they could graduate and immediately step into the workforce because they have real-world application skills that actual employers in our community need.

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