Bexley News

Schools notebook

Robotics team builds skills, enthusiasm for science

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I recently graduated from Bexley High School and, as I head to the Ohio State University this fall, there is no doubt that I will pursue a science or engineering major.

I loved the classes that I took at Bexley High School. I was entranced by physics and looked forward to my math homework. So joining our school's FIRST Robotics team seemed like the natural next step for me, the closest I could get to real-world engineering scenarios.

FIRST Robotics -- For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology -- is an international robotics competition, founded in 1992 by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway robotic arm for veterans who have lost limbs. Even after having created many world-changing innovations, he is proudest of FIRST. Actor Morgan Freeman calls FIRST "the Super Bowl of smarts ... a life-changing competition."

Every year, thousands of students on hundreds of teams around the world learn at the kickoff, in early February, which sport their robots will perform. They then have six weeks to build a robot that can finagle the complex rules and compete in an arena with thousands of screaming fans, parents, mentors, teachers and participants. I find this event more exciting than any football game.

Team members use the scientific design process to solve complex problems, which prepares us for the problem-solving aspect of engineering. But the technical, empirical aspects prepare us for careers as well. The coders work with advanced programming languages such as Java and Python, used by professional programmers.

The robots operate autonomously, with no human controller and only preprogrammed code, and then the human players take the controls and cooperate with two other teams on the alliance to compete in a sport involving Frisbees, exercise balls and more.

FIRST Robotics students earn millions of dollars in college scholarships simply for competing on FIRST teams.

Given the ubiquity of the STEM fields in our society and the fact that the United States may even be lagging behind other countries in the STEM fields, FIRST is absolutely necessary. Kamen created FIRST with a goal: "To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders." He saw the emphasis on athletes, musicians and actors in our culture and wanted FIRST to make engineering a dream job of the same caliber.

Teams are not only for future engineers. We have artists, clever innovators, enthusiastic hands-on builders and focused computer scientists. We have a passionate business team, which has raised impressive amounts of money and gained dedicated sponsors and mentors. This is interaction with the "real world." This is real money, real time and real deadlines. And it fosters real passion and a real readiness to face the professional world.

Our team is a cross-section of some of our school's brightest and most passionate students, who have gained teamwork, leadership, problem-solving and prioritization skills that have prepared them for, in my opinion, anything.

I will always advocate for the FIRST Robotics team in any way possible and I encourage younger students to get involved. I believe members of the team will do wonderful things if given the opportunity and I wish I could be here to see it happen.

Schools notebook is provided to ThisWeek Bexley News by the Bexley City School District. Elizabeth Heym is a 2014 graduate of Bexley High School.

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