High School Students Launch First Robotics Club

In early October of the 2018-2019 school year, high schoolers Liz Collins and Trinity Rist approached every STEM and science teacher in the school, asking if they would be willing to lead the robotics club that they dreamed of starting. While several teachers didn’t have the time to add more to their already-packed schedules, Middle School STEM Director, Rosemary McCarthy, stepped in and offered her expertise, unable to turn down the motivated group of future engineers.

Trinity Rist (junior), Elizabeth Collins (junior), Max Correia (sophomore), Kevin Webber (sophomore), Jude Heberlein (sophomore), Ayat Walid (sophomore), Trevor Franklin (freshman), Tatyana Lewis (freshman). Not pictured are Leo Correia (Grade 7, junior member), w/ STEM Director Rosemary McCarthy and the three mentors: Paulo Correia, Rick Bryan, and Keith Heberlein.

“Rosemary was the best choice, by far,” said Max Correia, one of the original club members.

The students had witnessed robotics clubs well underway in surrounding school districts, and they felt that they deserved a chance to learn the skillsets needed to build a robot and contend with schools in the upcoming FIRST Robotics Competition.

Once they had McCarthy on their side, the students had an even bigger job ahead of them; they had to recruit three engineer mentors and raise more than $6,000 to get the program up and running. In came Paulo Correia, Rick Bryan, and Keith Heberlein, real-world engineers and community members who agreed to dedicate every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons to guiding the students in building a robot.

“We like to say that we are rookies as well, and we steer but don’t necessarily drive the projects,” said Rick Bryan, a career software engineer.

After applying to several grants, the newly established Robotics Club received $4,000 from the FIRST Robotics Rookie Grant. The club received $500 from the 11 Foundation and $1,000 from the Viking Pride Foundation. In addition, they took it upon themselves to start a GoFundMe page and attend town events requesting donations for the remaining $500.

“These kids did not have a lot of money to work with and they hustled for it,” said McCarthy. “I tip my hat to them.”

Before they knew it, the Robotics Club had a core group of eight students, all who were passionate about learning the necessary expertise needed to build a bot. All eight students who see themselves as future engineers, began learning all the necessary components to building a robot; programming, mechanics, machining, and electronics. As an added bonus, they learned a great deal about promotion, fundraising and outreach, all skills that will come in handy when they head to college.

By December, the Robotics Club, who also deemed themselves as “Norse Code,” was prepared to enter their 79-pound robot, in its first competition. The competition, held at Reading Memorial High School, entailed three full days of qualification rounds and interviews with panels of judges. In a field house full of experienced robotics clubs, “Norse Code” showed off what they had accomplished in the short time since they started their own club. Their hard work paid off and they took home the “Rookie Inspiration Award” and “Highest-Seeded Rookie Award.”

Now, the club’s main goal is to keep getting better, and they are refining the skills that they have already learned, improving the movement and cargo structure of their robot. Going forward they will not only need the $2,000 annual FIRST Robotics Club registration fee but additional funds to purchase tools and parts and to cover travel expenses-and they are already brainstorming creative ways to fundraise for next year.

“It’s impossible to put together and work a robot on your own,” said Correia. “We all have different individual skills and we come together in the end for this major project.”

If you are interested in donating to the WHS Robotics Club, please contact Rosemary McCarthy at: [email protected]

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