Campus overrun by robots

GV / Emily Frye
West Michigan FIRST Robotics District Competition

GV / Emily Frye West Michigan FIRST Robotics District Competition

Peter Chhum

This weekend, Grand Valley State University was taken over by robots as the Allendale Campus hosted 40 high school teams competing in the FIRST Robotics West Michigan District Competition.

The competition promotes science, engineering and business in high schools to inspire young students to become science and technology leaders. FIRST is an acronym that means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The competition engages students in mentor-based programs to create various projects to foster communication, leadership and technology skills.

“The whole idea is to inspire young folks from elementary into high school to get into fields of science, engineering, technology and math by doing a competition that takes the excitement of the sports world and implements that into the academic world,” said Paul Plotkowski, dean of Padnos College of Engineering and Computing. “They do cool stuff with science and technology, and in this case, robots are the vehicles.”

The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges teams of high school students to solve a robotic challenge in six weeks. Students are given a standard kit of parts and a set of rules to create a robot to accomplish a task. The teams build their robots and compete in a new game each year. The game this year was “Aerial Ascent.”

This year’s game is just like basketball, said Nicki Bomczyk, volunteer coordinator of FIRST Robotics. During the game, there are two teams of three robots competing to score as many points as possible.

“Our robot is inspired by and called the Dung beetle. It has two eyes in the front, it has pinchers to pick up the balls, and it shoots it out the backside,” said Megan Himebook, a student from Holland, Mich.

Teams are also exposed to the business side of engineering as they set up a company dealing in advertising and community relations to gain a company sponsor. Though every team is given a standard kit to create their robot, the teams use innovative schemes and creativity to get the upper hand.

While students use this platform to create and compete, FIRST Robotics is also used as an opportunity for students to see their inventions come into fruition as well as meet with other young aspiring engineers.

“I’ve really enjoyed just staying after school every day working on different drawings and designs and hanging out with my friends. It’s really cool because it’s nice to be able to see my team’s robot out there competing after all of the work we put into it,” said Hannah Kuperus, a student from Hopkins Public Schools. “The people I get to meet around here are amazing, and they encourage you when you see the things they’ve created and vice versa. We push each other to want to do this more.”

FIRST Robotics also serves as a hub for past participants to relive their experiences and cultivate a new generation.

“Back in high school, I was in robotics and that’s what propelled me into engineering,” Bomczyk said. “This competition gave me that. It gave the want to be an engineer and now as a volunteer, I’m just trying to give back.”

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