The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 02, 2016 10:00 pm

Introducing students to 'real world'

KAITLYN EVENER | (Columbus) Republic

COLUMBUS, Ind. – Local students were among the estimated 75,000 high schoolers around the world who learned what this year’s game is for the FIRST Robotics competition.

About 40 students from Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. schools, including some home-schoolers, are teaming up for the third year in a row to take on the challenge.

Founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, FIRST, which stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," is a national nonprofit organization that focuses on getting students involved and inspired in science and similar fields.

IndianaFIRST, the Indiana-based affiliate, brought FIRST programs to schools all throughout the state for students from kindergarten through high school.

There are four levels of competition, separated by age groups. The FIRST Robotics Competition is open to high school students.

Team number 4926, also known as GalacTech, is led by Sam Geckler, a Cummins mechanical engineer.

At the kickoff announcement, participants received their first glimpse of the game field and details. Team members also received a kit which included parts for their robot and limited instructions, including a manual.

"The idea is to put the students into an environment with mentors and to get it as close to real engineering as possible – not enough time, resources or information," said Geckler.

This year’s theme is "Stronghold" and the goal is for students to build robots which can overcome the opponent’s defenses and capture a tower. Competition day will show two teams of three robots each on a field roughly the size of a basketball court.

"I was extremely excited (at kickoff), actually. Last year’s game was a little bit on the boring side," said Aaron Brown, CSA New Tech junior and programming team leader for GalacTech. "FIRST Robotics came back really strong this year with the original games. It’s a lot of fun. We get into it and research how we want to play and come up with a design."

Working with mentors, students have six weeks to create and test their robots. According to Geckler, the first steps include reading and re-reading the manual and creating a list of requirements for the robot.

Then the team begins creating a prototype.

Not all 40 students work on the robot – some focus on social media or marketing aspects.

With no participation fee and a "bare-bones" minimum budget of $15,000 needed each year to operate, fundraising is just another way the program prepares students for the real world, organizers said.

"FIRST is not fair in an absolute sense. All teams do not have the same budget or distribution of talent, but, in FIRST, the volunteers help the rookies," said Woodie Flowers, co-chair on the FIRST Executive Advisory Board, during the kickoff broadcast.

In addition to building business and engineering skills, FIRST’s mission is to also boost self-confidence and to improve student’s communication and leadership skills.

"(FIRST) made me make up my mind on what I want to do. I want to go into computer science and minor in electrical engineering. It taught me everything I know so far about programming and let me know what I wanted to do," said Brown.

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