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FIRST Robotics

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UMD students assist with the 2013 high school FIRST Robotics competition


UMD Students Mentor High School Robotic Teams

“What they do in six weeks would take an engineering firm three years,” says John Christensen, a senior in the UMD Electrical Engineering program. He is talking about the FIRST Robotics Competition, an international high school robotics competition.

The challenge combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time constraints, teams of 25 students or more raise funds, design a team "brand," and hone their teamwork skills. They build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. It's as close to "real world" engineering as a student can get.

In January robotics teams across the nation received their instructions and they had exactly six weeks until their robot was sealed up, to await competition. This year, robots had to throw Frisbees into slots, as well as being able to climb a tower.

Over 100 schools participated at the Lake Superior Regional FIRST Robotics Competition held March 8-10 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC) in Duluth. Participation in the FIRST Robotics competition has value. The UMD College of Science and Engineering offers three scholarships for incoming students who have participating in FIRST.

Professional mentors volunteer their time and talents to guide each team. Members of the UMD Student Branch of the IEEE (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) mentored several of the local high schools. Christensen has mentored the Daredevils, the East Duluth High School robotics team, for three years now, and has put in over 200 hundred hours this season alone. The Daredevils put in approximately 2500 hours during the six weeks on the engineering side of things. Additional work went into fund raising and advertising.

The hard work by Christensen and the Daredevils has paid off. They have won two regional competitions in the past three years, which allowed them to compete at the Worlds competition held in St. Louis, Missouri.

Christensen says his favorite part of the competition is watching kids come in not really knowing how to do anything and really progressing. “This program says 'Yes, you can" to high school students who are typically told 'No, you can’t.' ” says Christensen.

Krisi Kuutti, captain of the Daredevils, and fourth-year participant in the robotics competition, said the team appreciated Christensen. "John is a electronic master and has a strong attention to detail. We are very thankful for our UMD mentor." 

This year the Daredevils won the Excellence in Engineering award, They are competing again at the Midwest Regional competition in Chicago, Ill, April 4-6, to try and qualify for FIRST Robotics World Competition Championship.  

The term FIRST stands for 'For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.' FIRST's mission is to inspire young people to be leaders by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills. The goals of FIRST are to inspire innovation and foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

Video of the 2013 Lake Superior and Northern Lights Regional First Robotics Competition


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High school students compete in the robotics competition at the DECC.   UMD student John Christensen mentored East High School students.
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Robots try to climb a structure.   The East High School robot.

Minnesota High School FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff event was held at UMD on Saturday, January 5. Eighteen high schools and over 200 students, teachers, parents, and mentors, representing 18 area high schools, participated. Duluth's East High School, winners in past competitions, assisted with the presentation. A live web feed from NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, explained the details of the 2013 competition.

"This is a great opportunity for UMD to help develop an interest in the STEM disciplines among high school students," said Stan Burns, Professor and Jack Rowe Chair, in the Electrical Engineering Program. Burns is the UMD coordinator and a member of the state-wide committee of the FIRST Robotics competition.

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Helping with the Kick-Off event: Weston Norris (UMN-TC Physics), Hayden Norris (UMN-TC Mechanical Engineering), Alex Bergal (UMD Business), and John Christensen (UMD Electrical Engineering) .

  Stan Burns, professor and Jack Rowe Chair, UMD Electrical Engineering Program, welcomes the crowd. He is a member of the state-wide committee of the FIRST Robotics competition.
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Hundreds of high school students and mentors gather at UMD for the instructions for the 2013 competition.   Hayden Norris (UMN-TC Mechanical Engineering) and Alex Bergal (UMD Business) distribute the kits.

Story by Korin Olgaard, Madiha Mirza and Cheryl Reitan


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