by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
The Sequim High School robotics teams is gearing up for another year of competition in the nationwide FIRST Robotics competition.
The competition pairs high school students with adult mentors — primarily engineers and teachers — to design and build robots that compete against one another in what the national FIRST organization calls a “high energy varsity sport for the mind.”
Paul Quinn, manager of the Sequim JC Penney store, is a big believer in the program. Quinn’s store ponied up $10,000 in 2010 to support the local team’s first effort and another $3,000 this year. He noted the first donation purchased a good deal of the basic stuff — materials and tools that will be re-used this year.
FIRST team leaders say some $4,000 of the initial $10,000 remains and is being put to good use.
“It’s absolutely the greatest program,” Quinn said. He said he was introduced to FIRST Robotics two years ago while attending a get-together of Penney managers in Dallas. “We saw a live competition,” he said. “It was absolutely incredible.”
Quinn noted the competition often involves students who don’t play sports. “But they have a gift that is second to none.”
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction also provided a $3,000 grant for this year’s effort.
Clallam County 4-H sponsors the FIRST Robotics team at Sequim High School. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was started by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen, who is perhaps best known as the inventor of the Segway.
Gena Royal, Clallam County 4-H coordinator, said the program gives students an opportunity for “hands-on learning in science, math and technology. It gives these kids a chance to see how technology can fit into their future.”
Royal described the underlying credo of the contest as “gracious professionalism. Winning isn’t as important as cooperation.”
Lending a hand
Sequim High School instructor Brad Moore, who teaches robotics, woodshop, welding and computer aided design, is the adviser/coach for the team. Vocational director Stu Marcy commented, “All of Brad Moore’s skills come together nicely for this extracurricular activity, which helped ensure its success last year.”
The robotics team meets every Wednesday and all high school students are eligible to join.
Marcy said the “students are getting prepared and organized. We have a variety of jobs and positions, including chief engineer, designers, builders, drivers, website manager, robot-cart designer, programmers, safety officer, spirit manager and all the other standard officers’ positions.”
Marcy said the team members “warmed up” for the upcoming competition when they recently outfitted the existing school robot with a T-shirt launcher that was used at the school’s Oct. 8 Homecoming assembly.
This January team members will travel to Seattle to pick up their new kit and to learn the goals of this year’s competition. The formal competition will take place the fourth week of March.
Marcy explained that the cost to compete is about $5,000 per team per year. “We are allowed to spend approximately $3,000 more for parts beyond the set of parts provided in the kit. Transportation and accommodations for the entire team may run another $2,500.”
Moore said he is particularly grateful for the assistance of Josh Myer, an engineer with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who mentored the club last year and is back for another year. He said Jerry Royall, representing 4-H, also provides great assistance.
In 2011, the robotics competition involved nearly 55,000 high school students representing approximately 2,200 teams. The teams come from every state in the United States and from countries around the world.
For more information on FIRST Robotics, see www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc/default.aspx?id=966.