By Elizabeth Goussetis
On Saturdays and every day after school, the robotics team at Reynoldsburg High School can be found welding, building, programming, testing, and re-testing.
It’s build season for high school robotics teams. Their assignment? Design and build a robot that can throw a giant yoga ball through a football style goal post.
Recently students worked on the drive train of the robot. Another group tried to solve the problem of how to get the robot to throw a ball. Several students with joysticks drove the body of the robot around a replica of the field.
Anthony Cavallero, a junior who is part of the programming team, tested the camera mounted on the robot, which allows the students to write programs to tell the robot where to go.
“We’re like the nerve system of the robot,” Cavallero said.
Last year’s robot, named Sketchy, threw Frisbees and the first year’s robot, Glitch, sank 3-pointers with precision.
This is the team’s third year and includes 51 eSTEM students and three coaches, lead by social studies teacher Jim Coley and math teacher Amy Stewart. And that’s just the varsity team. A group of 9th and 10th grade students competes in a different robotics competition that serves as a training ground.
Robots are expensive – the team’s costs last year were more than $15,000, mostly for parts and registration fees.
At first, Coley said, “We didn’t have any support because we didn’t know what to ask for.”
Now the team has students in charge of marketing, fundraising, community outreach, and grant writing, and more support from local groups.
“The last two years, we showed up with a wooden robot and people kind of snickered,” Coley said.
Now the team has access to the school’s new FabLab and can create anything it can imagine. But this year’s robot will have wood on it somewhere. It’s a point of pride now.
“It makes us unique,” said Issac Khan, the team’s senior project manager.
Khan shares leadership of the team with Olivia Suitor, the senior logistics manager. Each supervises teams of students with specialized functions, who are supported by the expertise of adult volunteer mentors, including a Battelle engineer, a computer hacker, an electrical engineer, and a marketing expert.
“One of the things I like about them is they don’t tell us how to do it, they give us the concept and let us do it,” Khan said of the team’s 14 mentors.
Kiara Avendano, the team’s tactical lead, is in charge of the team’s strategy at competition. She presides over an elaborate process of pit scouting and analyzing other teams’ robots, determining which team the Reynoldsburg group wants to form alliances with. Her group is also responsible for trying to “sell” the other teams on the merits of the Reynoldsburg robot.
“This game is all about your alliances,” she said. “My group gets to know every single team that’s there, and everything they do.”
Avendano’s team of spreadsheet-wielding analysts aren’t being overzealous. Strategy is an essential part of the game in the FIRST Robotics Competition, which is designed to teach students skills that they will use in engineering fields, such as cooperation, safety, problem-solving and technical skills.
“I’ve been teaching for 22 years, and I’ve never seen so many kids go into engineering,” Coley said.
But not all of the students plan to go into engineering. Avery Menear is the team’s fabrication lead, in charge of building a replica of the field and other woodworking projects. She is a senior bound for college to study animal science and zoology next year.
“Really what this has taught me is leadership,” said Menear, who was on the team the first year and says supporting the younger students on her team is one of the most rewarding aspects.
Junior project manager Maggie Feldman, who worked on the robot’s drive train, was interested in biology, and possibly becoming a surgeon. But she says the influence of her three older brothers, who are triplets and all on the team, has sparked an interest in more things mechanical.