Photos and story by Crystal Hayduk
Chelsea High School (CHS) senior Aiden Fernandez said that the FIRST Robotics Competition Team (FRC) is “unconventional and the ultimate educational experience.”
The CHS Team 1502, named “Technical Difficulties,” is part of the FIRST Robotics Competition, which is an international high school level competition. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen, exists “… to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership,” according to www.firstinspires.org.
Students have six weeks to design, engineer, and build a robot in response to a challenge introduced to 4,000 teams in January. Teams then compete for a six-week season, or more, based on their ranking.
“The tournaments are very exciting and the kids have a great time competing against 39 other teams from across the state,” said Mike Kizer, the team’s advisor.
Anne Findlay, a junior who first joined the middle school team (First Tech Challenge) as a seventh grader, said that the team members share a large variety of skills: programming, electrical and mechanical engineering, computer-aided design (CAD), website development, graphic design (logo and brochures), and business and public speaking (fundraising and public relations).
Kizer said students receive “great core support from mentors who are dedicated to the students’ success.” He emphasized that parents are the first-line mentors, yet they don’t need skills or experience to find a place to help.
The team is also supported by Chelsea Robotics Boosters, Inc., which recently obtained non-profit status in an effort to improve fundraising for Chelsea Robotics programs. “The boosters will make STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) a great focus in the school district,” said Kizer.
“Robotics students have advocated for and successfully acquired new classes in STEM-related fields to improve the overall success of our students, particularly those who don’t necessarily ‘fit in’ with the traditional school activities of sports and other social clubs,” said Kizer.
Findlay said the CHS courses in video game design, robotics, and advanced placement computer science are all a result of advocacy by robotics team members.
Team 1502, which began in 2005, has grown this year to nearly double the number of team members as last year.
Connor Peterson, a senior who joined the team this year, said it’s never too late to benefit from the opportunity to learn. “I chose to help with the CAD team,” he said. “Doing some robot design on the computer first is easier and cheaper.”
Sophomore Lauren Eicher is another new member. She joined the team after learning about it in Tech and Design I class from teacher Duane Moss. Eicher, who is also on the CHS dive team and in the jazz band, has contributed to CAD and pamphlet design. She said she and her teammates work well together and understand each other’s humor. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s still a lot of fun,” she said.
Team 1502 “did well overall” at the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School Regional Competition on March 10-11, according to Kizer. “With some tweaks and strategies, we expect to do very well in Howell on March 31 and April 1.”
Fernandez, who was inspired by Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, to pursue a career in science and technology, appreciates the hands-on nature of Team 1502. “Students strategize the design, accomplish the task, and compete,” said Fernandez. “I’ve learned more here than in the regular high school classes – and it’s been a lot more fun.”
Find more information about FIRST-RTC at www.chelsearobotics.org. Links to their other social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube) are accessible from the website.
Tax-deductible donations can be made by mailing a check to “Chelsea Robotics Boosters,” 1101 South Main St., #334, Chelsea, MI 48118.