It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, but the FIRST Robotics regular season is finally complete. It was an exciting action packed week, and I sat down and talked to team members from all of our ADI teams in attendance.

4905 Andromeda One

Probably one of the most inspirational stories I heard that week was the incredible work that 4905 has been doing in Massachusetts. I spoke with Sophomore Eric about their MASS FIRST program, and I was just blown away by how much this team has accomplished in the short 4 years they've been around.

Kristen: What's one difficult challenge that you have encountered and overcome while on the team?

Eric: I haven't encountered any just yet, but a difficult transition is coming up for us with the last of our original members graduating off the team this year. I'll become one of the leads next year, and leading in their footsteps is a lot to live up to, and not having the original "experts" there to ask for help will be tough.

Kristen: It's certainly a difficult part of having a new team. My own team is now at a point where both first and second generation members have all graduated off the team, and we're kind of at a crossroads as to where to go from here. It's definitely a difficult transition for any team to make.

Can you tell me a little bit about MASS FIRST?

Eric: It started a while back when Dean Kamen visited one of our events and said that he wanted Massachusetts to be the first state with FIRST in every school district and we just took that challenge and ran with it. So we created MASS FIRST. We reach out to schools that don't have FIRST teams yet and offer mentorship and resources to get started. We've started 9 FLL teams in our area, mentored 2 new FRC teams including 5422 Stormgears. We've made connections with many many schools that are excited to get FIRST programs started at their schools and want our help mentoring them.

Kristen: Stormgears is another one of our teams too, so that's really cool!

One last question. How has FIRST changed who you are and how has it affected your life?

Eric: I wish I had joined earlier! Definitely one thing it has done for me is get me to go try things. I used to just have ideas, like oh that would be cool if you could do XYZ. But I would never actually go out and try to do it. Now I have the resources and the knowledge to go out and actually try some of these ideas out.

Andromeda One had a good run at the championship despite some struggles, finishing ranked 63 in their division and had a regular season record of 27-25-1.

5422 Stormgears

Speaking of Stormgears, they also had the opportunity to compete at St Louis! I spoke with the Stormgears last year at St Louis. I spoke with one of the original students that joined when the team was started two years ago about this year's robot design and their new project, StormNet.

One of the things they spent a lot of time on this year was actually their shooter. By the time they reached worlds they were on iteration 80-something at least they told me. They were still 3D printing new components and trying new ways to deflect fuel balls within the robot to make sure their feed mechanism would function as intended. But this is one of the challenges of engineering. Lots of testing until it's just right.

One student told me that the most unexpected thing he learned on the team was actually drilling holes and how much more is involved than just "point and go" when working with polycarbonate or metals. He was blown away by what goes into actually drilling a hole.

When I asked them about the team's biggest struggle, he launched into a discussion about StormNet. It started as an easy way to get 15+ sensors onto a robot with as little programming on the RoboRIO as possible. It also added some flashy LED functionality to their robot. One difficulty they had was in using ultrasonic sensors to help their robot orient itself. Unless they are used properly, the chirps of one sensor can be picked up and read by another, so what they did with StormNet was automatically to the sequencing of measurements so that readings wouldn't interfere with eachother. Their design is scalable as well, so if they need more sensors there is plenty of room to expand. It also taught them PCB cad software and practices as a cool bonus!

I also heard about their journey from after school program to entrepreneurship competition with their Steam Splash program. They took this "STEAM in a box" concept to Learn Launch, a competition where startups and small companies go for investment funding, and they made it all the way to the quarterfinals. One of the events they competed at was during a competition they were competing at with the robot, so it took a lot of coordination.

Overall, Stormgears had a good run with the robot also. They ranked 31 in their division at the end of qualifications and finished their season with a record of 27-23-0.

1153 Roborebels

1153 is actually a team ADI has supported for many years, and I got to talk to three of their students while at the competition, junior Jacob, sophomore Max, and freshman Diedre.

Kristen: How did you get involved with the team, what drew you to FIRST robotics?

Jacob: I'm just sort of a nerd in general, and I didn't want to do a regular organized sport, so robotics was just sort of an easy decision for me.

Max: I've been friends with two of the seniors for a while. When we were in middle school we were in a robotics club using the Lego NXT kits. When I became a freshman I debated between football and robotics, but I realized I could do both. My friends got me to join and I love it!

Diedre: My middle school tech teacher told me about the team. I'm also part of the STEM program at the school, which is a special set of graduation requirements on top of what any student has to complete. The team fulfills part of those requirements.

Kristen: What's something you didn't expect to get out of this program?

Jacob: A real sense of community, everyone gets along for the most part, and when we do have problems we learn to work through it.

Max: I have to agree with Jacob, it really feels like a family. We do a lot of stuff outside of school together like bowling.

Diedre: It's a really cool experience to learn so many new things, between all the different departments. That paired with the classes, it's a cool program.

Kristen: How has being on the team changed who you are?

Jacob: I was much quieter before I joined, and now I can communicate way better.

Max: It's really helped me with my self confidence, especially with that transition from middle school into high school. It's helped me really find who I am.

Diedre: Having the upper classmen there to guide you is really helpful in the transition. Like Max said before, this team is like a family.

Roborebels finished the event ranked 17 in their division, and finished the season with a win/loss record of 33-25-0.

254 Cheesy Poofs

A lot of people seem to think that the "big name" teams have some special secret to how they run and why they're so good. But after I sat down and talked to two of the 254 students, it became clear to me just how similar every team is. Even 254 is largely student-run, and it really is a well-oiled machine. (Sorry for the CHEESY pun! Okay, I'm sorry, I'll stop...) I sat down with Team President Griffin Soule, a junior Deans List finalist, and Outreach Head and Drive Team member Themis Hadjiioannou, a junior, to talk to them about the team.

Kristen: What brought you to the FIRST community and made you want to join 254?

Themis: In middle school I had done FLL and had seen FRC when I was shadowing at other high schools and thought it was the coolest thing ever. When I saw it I knew I had to do it, and it was a factor in deciding to go to my current high school after hearing they were a successful world class team.

Griffin: I'd come to a couple of open houses and had seen the robotics team a little bit and that kind of got me interested. I'd always been into engineering and STEM related activities. Then at the beginning of the year they had a big open house at the lab wher they show you all the different sub teams and you get a good feel for the team. I visited a lot of those and it really drew me in to see all the different activities they had going on.

Themis: Chezy champs also really drew me in, it's the off-season event that we put on for other teams. It was the first time I had ever seen FRC and I was just blown away.

Kristen: What was the most unexpected thing you've learned since joining the team?

Themis: I think there have been a lot of surprises. I think the thing that was the biggest was how strong that connection is between the students and the mentors. Having come from FLL, the mentors are more disconnected, they were basically only there to make sure we weren't being dangerous. In FRC, we joke around, and we learn a lot from them and we work together and I really appreciate that now.

Griffin: I couldn't have said it better myself. Another thing is the resources that are available to our team. When I first joined I was like "okay this is cool we have all this stuff" and then we get to competition and we were like "....whoa. Team 254 is actually really good!" I had no idea that our team was "among the best" when I first joined.

Kristen: Perfect segue to the next question. In FRC you have your teams that are traditionally very strong in the robot department, and that's really all the team focuses on, teams like 148. Then you have other teams which really take pride in their outreach programs, and sure they build great robots too, but their focus is outreach. You guys do both and that's hard to live up to. How do you guys handle that?

Themis: It's a group effort really. We have sub teams so that we can all focus on different projects. Being the outreach head, I really try to find other team members that want to do outreach, not just that they're being forced to do it. It's just a legacy on our team. I'm walking in the footsteps of Griffin who was Outreach head before me. We just pride ourselves in community outreach because we are such a lucky team, the resources we have access to are so unbelievable and we want to use that to help those that don't have it. The robot side, that's just why you join the team, that's the cool stuff! We have a lot of committed members, a lot of great mentors helping and teaching us about engineering and robotics and how to be a good team.

Griffin: I think there are a couple of things that really contribute to that. First, it's kind of expected. We don't shoot to get this many outreach events this month, we just do that. We're not aiming for the stars. We have been good at these things in the past and we just carry that forward. Another thing is we have a really good system down as far as team structure goes. We've honed in on a structure that works very well, not only for technical tasks but for outreach as well. I think the way work is distributed throughout the team is managed very well.

Kristen: I think that's beautifully exemplified by just how you guys run the pit as a team. I saw the mentors just standing back letting you guys run the show and everything was well orchestrated. The fact that a team this size can operate like that with so little mentor intervention is a testament to that I think.

For you guys personally, what has been the biggest challenge you have had to face since joining the team and how did you overcome that?

Themis: Time management!

Griffin: Yes!

Themis: I want to spend all my time at robotics whenever I get a chance to go to the lab. I don't mind it taking up all my free time because it's fun, but at the same time it's tough because I'll sometimes put school work aside to go to the lab and work on stuff for the team, which usually leads to a late night with homework. I'm sure it's the same for all other teams but it's tough to be a committed member while also being a full time student with other activities outside of robots like science fairs and classes for that matter. Since joining I will say I've significantly improved my time management as a result, but it's still a challenge.

Griffin: I completely agree with that. Once you get into leadership roles in particular it gets even harder because there's also this factor of "if I don't do it who will?" At the lab it's my job to coordinate the meetings before we start building and go over what we're going to work on, what we want to focus on, what the goals are, and if I'm not there I have to communicate that to someone to pass it off to so that the team can keep going. Sometimes you're the only one that knows how to do something, and if you don't stay involved or answer emails, no one answers emails for you so it can be tough.

Kristen: What is your favorite outreach event to put on? I know we talked a little bit about Chezy Champs.

Themis: My favorite is probably Engineering Day. It's our biggest event in terms of community involvement. We organize a one day camp where we invite middle schoolers in the area to come to a session that we host as students they build VEX IQ robots alongside 254 students and we do other engineering related activities like toothpick bridges, marshmallow towers, the works. Not only is it great team building for the students, but it's also a great introduction to engineering concepts for them. It generally gets a lot of attention, last year we got 50-60 students.

Griffin: I was hoping you wouldn't pick that one! I can pick another though. I love the Bay Area Science Festival. It's sort of your general outreach event where we set up the robot and a booth and answer questions, but it's a huge event that takes place in the San Francisco Giants stadium so the amount of traffic we get is crazy. It's a great experience for the public because they get to see our robot along with other FIRST teams and other STEM and art activities, but it's also great for our students because it's awesome to see what others have set up and explore the stadium in a way you wouldn't normally get to do if you went to a normal Giants game.

Themis: I want to add another one I enjoy that I started this year after volunteering at a program called Sunday Friends. Sunday Friends is an event where they host activities for families to do that are underprivileged at local elementary schools. I went as part of my hours requirement because our high school really encourages volunteerism. But I wound up loving the charity and what it achieves so much that I went back more and more. One day I thought of bringing robotics to these Sunday Friends days. We've done it 3 times now and we bring our FRC robots and our VEX robots and let the kids take a closer look and interact with them. We try to inspire them that while they may not be in the best situation right now, they can do this one day too, it's approachable, we're just high school students, and if we can do it you can do it too someday.

Kristen: Last question. How has being on the team changed your life?

Griffin: I think it definitely checks some of those "boxes" off like time management, working with others both small and large teams. It's super impactful in that respect but in the long term I think it's opened a lot of doors. It's not only given me the opportunity to work with others on a big team but I've also been presented the opportunity to get scholarships for colleges and it's helped me make connections and meet lots of people. It's set me up for success both for college and beyond.

Themis: I fully agree with all of that. I've definitely met a lot of awesome people both on our team and on other teams and we keep in touch. I've met so many awesome role models, a lot of world class mentors and how many people they've reached and helped. I aspire to be like them. I've also learned a lot about engineering and I think this has prepared me well for that career path. I've become a lot more responsible and mature and robotics has helped me through that.

Griffin: I think my experience has been impactful because of the leadership opportunities that I've been presented, and through working with kids and with team members I've learned how to communicate well and how to be a cool leader and an effective leader. Not just being a boss but being a leader.

Team 254 finished 2nd in their division and were selected by the #1 seed, 2767 Stryke Force, to be part of their alliance. Together they advanced all the way to Einstein in St Louis and they took home the gold, winning it all in the finals. Team 254 will advance with their alliance to the Festival of Champions at the end of July, where they will face the winners from Houston in a battle for the title of World Champion in Manchester, NH.