Robo engineering: East Grand Challenge Team digs into competition circuit |

Robo engineering: East Grand Challenge Team digs into competition circuit

The Metal Minds

East Grand’s FIRST Tech Challenge Team has 11 participating students this year.

Eighth graders on the team include Cade Jones, Casimir McFarlin, and Adam Williams. Seventh graders on the team include Blake Allen, Calvin Cicarelli, Ashton Fawkes, Tyler Harms, Stephanie O’Flaherty, Luke Peters, Luke Vecchiarelli, and Brayden Webb.

As the world of technology and automation rapidly transforms labor markets around the globe East Grand Middle School is looking to help students get ahead of the curve with the creation of unique programs like the school’s robotics club.

This is the third year in a row East Grand has offered robotics club activities to junior high students but this year there is a new addition of sorts. The school is pushing their efforts to the next level with the creation of the FIRST Tech Challenge Team, which is essentially an advanced level robotics club focused on designing, constructing, programing and operating robots as part of a competitive nationwide tournament system.

The same two East Grand teachers who oversee the school’s robotics club, Rebecca Chernin and Melissa Quinn, are heading up the Challenge Team this year. The Challenge Team, which sports the team name Metal Minds, features a roster of 11 students, all seventh or eighth graders, and includes one girl.

Each student on the Challenge Team has a specific role including a team captain, project managers, and specifically designated mechanical and electrical engineers among others. To be on the Challenge Team students were required to have participated in robotics last year.

“We also had to explain it is a very big commitment in terms of both time and finances,” Quinn said. “It is a bit more than just an after school club.”

FIRST, an acronym meaning “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”, is a New Hampshire based nonprofit that seeks to foster a love of science and technology in young students. As part of their national robotics competition network FIRST provides all challenge teams with the same yearly challenge scenario. Students then design, program, build and test robots to meet the given challenge.

“The focus is on the engineering aspect of it,” Quinn said. “It is really about the whole process.”

“In general this is about bringing engineering concepts and ideas to schools,” Chernin said. “The kids think of great ideas, but when they actually start working on these projects the real world hits home. Sometimes things look good on paper, but aren’t really working.”

Part of that process requires students participating on the challenge team to keep an engineering notebook, which is also judged as part of the competition process. Additionally the middle school students are getting a bit of help this year from West Grand High School students. West Grand has fielded a successful Challenge Team over the past several years and are mentoring the East Grand students as their make their first foray into the world of competitive robotics.

There is a cost to the Challenge Team, above and beyond robotics club costs. East Grand received a grant from FIRST specifically set aside for first year teams. That $550 grant was divided half-and-half between the team’s FIRST Teach registration costs and the purchase of the robotics kit the students are utilizing for competition. East Grand School District also provided about $200 in funding to help cover the outstanding costs from the purchase of the $500 robotics kit. There was also a $150 entry fee for each of the two competitions the Metal Minds will attend this year, which was covered by Quinn herself.

The team hopes to conduct some fundraisers this year to help defray those costs as well as costs related to food and ancillary items while the students attend competitions. The team is also looking for local sponsors and Quinn said the students would happily give presentations on the Challenge Team to any prospective sponsors. The Mental Mind’s first contest will be the Central CO Qualifier, scheduled for Jan. 20 in Lafayette. They also plan to attend the Western Slope Qualifier on Jan. 27 in New Castle.

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