FIRST Robotics

FIRST Robotics

The following content was originally published in the Tesoro Martinez Community Newsletter. Read more articles hereTesoro Martinez Community Newsletter – Summer 2017

 

In 2016, Tesoro became a sponsor of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)—specifically, of a national Robotics Championship competition that took place in San Jose with more than 100 teams of high school students from across the world. What was very clear, however, was the lack of teams from the East Bay. To remedy that glaring absence, Tesoro Martinez is now sponsoring a FIRST Robotics team (Team #6662) at College Park High School in Pleasant Hill. FIRST teaches life skills to kids of all ages, through the use of technology. FIRST Robotics is a high school-level program, but FIRST does offer technology programs for other grade levels.

Off to a Great Start

College Park High School kicked off its rookie year with 27 members. If you imagine that an after-school robotics program consists of a clique  of “geeks”—think Big Bang Theory— nothing is further from the truth. Some team members are football players and swimmers; many are in the orchestra or band. They range from freshmen to seniors, as many girls as boys, and most did not know each other before the season began.

To watch the students work together, you’d never know that. Max Morehead, a senior, is the President of the team and has a terrific way of rallying everyone to a common goal. The crew not only built a robot together but also had to create a presentation, a portfolio, do quality control—and each team member played a vital role.

They call themselves “Engineers with Attitude” but not the kind of attitude you’d think. There is brainstorming going on, helping, guiding, counseling and cleaning up messes. “We don’t think we’ll win this year— it’s our first attempt,” observed Morehead before the upcoming competition in the spring. “But we are excited about the competition and helping other teams do well.” In FIRST, that’s called “coopertition.”

“This is much better,” say Marcus Sander, a college-bound senior who participated in another robotics program called Vex. “We’re actually building something from scratch that has a purpose and we have to work together to make it happen. And unlike some sports, there are no individual stats here—we’re a team.”

Building and Programming Powerful Technology

“Steamworks” was the theme of this year’s competition, held March 16 to 19 in San Francisco. In short, teams had to program their robots to pick up balls and toss them into a boiler, providing “fuel” to make steam. In addition, the robots needed to collect gears and deposit them in the “air tower” to make it operate. All of this was done in a timed, controlled setting, but working with other teams. In this regional competition, there were more than 40 teams from as far away as Hawaii and Turkey.

Although members of College Park’s team thought they might have a chance to earn the Rookie Award, they did much better. They made it to the quarterfinals and, ultimately, captured the Judges Award, which honors a team “whose unique efforts, performance or dynamics merit recognition yet do not fit into any of the existing award categories.” An incredible achievement for a first-time entry.

In addition to building a robot that actually competes, team members learned about STEM jobs, made presentations, did outreach in the community (to teachers and students), and improved their skills in teamwork and problem-solving—all while enjoying themselves!

For the kids, it’s a win-win proposition: Maile Moyrong, a 10th-grader, was in charge of quality control—making sure the team checked off everything that was reviewed by judges at the competition. She enjoys the team because it’s really a community. Even her little sister wants to come. “That motivates me,” she says. At one point, upperclassman Morehead remarked to Shauna Hawes, the teacher who got the team going, “Mrs. Hawes, wouldn’t it be great if, in two years, every high school had this?”

Hawes oversees the workshop areas at Valley View Middle School, where both FIRST and the middle school after-school robotics programs work. She shares Morehead’s enthusiasm and his great pride in the program. “One day, the kids spent an entire afternoon arguing over the shape of the chassis—but it was glorious,” she recalls. “They were laughing and brainstorming and collaborating and it was all so constructive. We’ve created an environment here where they are happy and contributing and productive—they want to come back.” All participants agreed. Even some of the graduating seniors remarked that if they go to college locally, they’ll be back to help mentor next year’s team.