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 UMD Sponsors Robotics Competition

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Aspiring Engineers Test Their Metal's Mettle

Robot
Robot from a previous FIRST competition (Photo: http://www.usfirst.org)

High school students, with UMD student support, are getting a dose of science and technology this spring. For 19 years, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” (FIRST) has contributed to the teaching of science and technology to students of all ages. The program has expanded exponentially over the years, progressing from 28 teams in a New Hampshire high school gym to thousands of teams in a national robotics competition.

UMD is a key part of the program. For the fourth year, Swenson College of Science and Engineering (SCSE) students are mentoring theDuluth East High School's Robotics Club in the design, building, and operation of robots.

UMD’s connection with the FIRST competition will become even more intense this year, when a regional competition will take place in Duluth at the DECC for the first time. UMD is sponsoring this location change. In the past, students from the area travelled to the U of M Twin Cities campus to compete.

Stanley Burns
SCSE Associate Dean Stanley Burns is a member of the FIRST regional board.

Considering the challenges of transporting heavy but delicate robots, the U of M contacted SCSE Associate Dean Stanley Burns about hosting a regional tournament in the Duluth area. As a member of the FIRST regional board for the competition, he was happy to oblige.

The Lake Superior Regional Competition was founded based on this idea. It encompasses 40 high schools in the Duluth area, as well as one in Chicago, Ill. On Jan. 8, students were presented with information about the task they were to complete and given parts to start on their machine. 

The competition runs from March 10-12 when participants will have completed their designs and built a robot to present at the DECC. The robots will be put to the test in head-to-head competition. Numerous volunteers will be on hand to help.

“These are prototype robots,” Burns said. “They break down and, when they do, it’s important to get them back up and running as soon as possible.” The team of UMD student mentors will help repair the robots involved in the games.

“Everyone involved benefits,” Burns said. “The high school students learn valuable skills, and the college students impact their community in a positive way.” Ingenuity and perseverance are required in the hands-on segment of the build. Marketing skills are needed to recruit sponsors to help fund their high school’s program.

Electrical engineering student John Christensen said "I really enjoyed being able to mentor the FIRST team this build season. It was a chance to pass on the knowledge I have learned in engineering class to high school students looking to put that knowledge into action. This years' robot is going to be exciting to watch at the competitions; as a mentor I can't wait to watch the team compete as they have put a significant amount of effort in this year."

Still, the high schoolers aren't doing it alone. Local and state businesses have donated handsomely to the program over the years and this year is no exception. “JC Penney has donated $50,000, and MN Power has donated $10,000 to FIRST,” Burns said. “Those are just two of the bigger sponsors. Many people are also donating their time, volunteering to work at the DECC to make sure things run as smoothly as possible.”

UMD’s involvement in this project has helped a group of Duluth high schoolers build their dreams. “I’m really glad that UMD offers opportunities not only to college students, but potential UMD graduates as well,” Burns said. “It shows the university’s connection to the Duluth community.”

Written by Zach Lunderberg

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