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Science, technology, gracious professionalism…and a little “coopertition” for good measure

Mission of FIRST
FIRST was founded in 1989 with a mission of inspiring “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-esteem, communication and leadership.”

Students in FIRST programs are able to:
square bulletWork alongside professional engineers.

square bulletBuild and compete with a robot of their own design.

square bulletLearn and use sophisticated hardware and software.

square bulletDevelop designs, as well as learn project management, programming, teamwork and strategic thinking skills.

square bulletQualify for more than $14 million in college scholarships.
(Source: FIRST website.)

september 22, 2012

There’s a new competitive spirit growing in Schuylerville.

It won’t be found on the football field…nor on the basketball court.

Instead, it’s on the tech field that plays host to what has been dubbed “the varsity sport for the mind.”

It’s Schuylerville’s Robotics Club—one of many school-based groups nationwide affiliated with the organization called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The FIRST programs are geared toward different age groups: robotics competitions and tech challenges for grades 9-12, LEGO leagues for grades 4-8 and junior LEGO leagues for grades K-3.


“With Schuylerville’s Robotics Club, we’re focusing on the programs for grades 9-12,” said Kevin Gifford, one of a handful of district parents and volunteers who are overseeing the club’s operations.

Gaining momentum
The club started last year and is gaining momentum in its second year after making connections with other local FIRST clubs. “The clubs from Shenendehowa and RPI gave us kits and some equipment so we could get started. That was invaluable,” Gifford said. “Currently, we have around 10 students involved. We’d welcome even more involvement—from students, but also from mentors and sponsors.”

In addition to its regular technology-based learning activities, the group is planning to compete in the regional FIRST Robotics Competition in the spring in Rochester. It’s an expensive proposition, costing $15,000 to $21,000 to compete regionally and up to $30,000 to compete for teams moving on to the national competition.

“We’re doing a lot of fundraising activities and looking for sponsors,” Gifford explained. “Our goal is to raise $30,000 by January.”

The FIRST Robotics competition is an intense experience that combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Participants are all given their kits and their competition “assignment” at the exact same time in January of each year. Working under strict rules and within defined time limits (six weeks for the regional competition), teams must build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. Last year, the assignment was called “Rebound Rumble” and involved building and programming robots that would shoot basketballs into a basket and retrieve the balls. Teams compete at regional events, so the prescribed tasks must be carried out in the competition setting. FIRST describes the experiences as being “as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.”

Schuylerville’s Robotics Club will get a little preview of competitions at a smaller event taking place in December at RPI.

“One of the biggest things the kids learn is teamwork—and that’s a skill that employers are seeking in 21st-century employees,” Gifford said. “Of course the STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—skills are also in high demand.”

FIRST also promotes what it calls “gracious professionalism,” according to Gifford. “This means participants are competing, but at the same time, they’re treating one another with respect and kindness in the process,” Gifford said. “It’s not uncommon to see competing teams helping one another if a team encounters a problem during competition.”

And that’s where the FIRST term, “coopertition,” comes into play. Coopertition involves teams helping each other, as well as teammates learning from each other and from their mentors.

Speaking of mentors and participants….
Schuylerville’s Robotics Club could use a few more. “We want to take the kids to the next level, so we’re seeking more mentors to help out,” Gifford said. “We’d also like to invite more students to join—even if they’re not tech-oriented. There are lots of opportunities to get involved. For example, the need students and volunteers who have business sense to help write the club’s business plan. We’re looking for students and mentors who are interested in website design, photography, art, animation and much more. We need creative people to help with fundraising ideas. We want everyone’s input to make this club successful.”

Gifford points out an additional incentive for students to get involved—scholarships. “FIRST offers millions of dollars in scholarships to juniors and seniors who participate. “That’s certainly an added bonus,” he said.

More information
Schuylerville’s Robotics Club meets on Monday evenings from 6 to 7:30 p.m. When the group has its “assignment” for the FIRST Robotics competition, the group will meet more frequently. For more information, send an e-mail message to: schuylervillerobotics@gmail.com or call Kevin Gifford at 695-6057. The club also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SchuylervilleRoboticsInk.