During an evening practice, students on Grand Haven High School’s F.I.R.S.T. Robotics team — the Buc’n’Gears — worked on their driving skills as they continuously strive to improve ahead of their first 2018 competition, the St. Joseph District Event, later this week.
This year’s game is “Power Up,” a theme modeled after an 1980s arcade game. Part of the game requires robots to move “power cubes” onto a balance, which teams have to make tip in their favor.
Getting involved in F.I.R.S.T. (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics helped confirm senior Ryan Klahorst’s interest in pursuing a future in engineering. The 18-year-old took engineering classes as a freshman and joined the robotics team with a friend after hearing people talk about it.
Klahorst, who is in his third year with the team, said he most enjoys the build season — determining how the team wants to play the game, how to design a robot to fit their goals and constantly working to improve. Teams recently wrapped up their build season, which is a little more than six weeks long.
Since the teams can’t touch their robot until competition time once build season ends, the Buc’n’Gears have a practice robot to use as they fine-tune their skills to maneuver it around the field and pick up “power cubes.”
About 20 students are on this year’s GHHS team. They receive guidance from seven mentors.
Sophomore Hannah Smith is entering her second year on the Buc’n’Gears’ business team. Although Smith didn’t know much about robots when she joined, she said it’s about the experiences and the bonds created with teammates. Smith, 16, and her teammates work on fundraising opportunities and designing promotional buttons, banners and shirts.
Smith said she was nervous when she joined the team last year, but she said everyone welcomed her with open arms.
“It feels like a second home,” Smith said.
In addition to competing on the field, teams can earn points in different ways, such as safety awards.
GHHS senior Alexandra Holt started the team’s safety program during her freshman year with the help of another student. Now 18, Holt said she saw it as an opportunity they previously missed out on.
Holt said she asked other teams at a competition what they did for safety. As a result, many teams offered to help. Holt, the Grand Haven team’s safety captain, said it helped her learn to ask for help when she doesn’t know something. She said the robotics teams’ “gracious professionalism” shines through as they work together even when they’re viewed as competitors.
Getting involved in F.I.R.S.T. Robotics helped shape Holt’s future. Initially, she joined the team on impulse, but it opened the door to potential career ideas and opportunities. She said she wouldn’t have otherwise thought about a future in engineering or electrical work.
“It gives you a taste of the different things out there,” she said.
Holt now participates in the Early/Middle College program through Grand Rapids Community College and the Careerline Tech Center. She has a work-based learning opportunity with Herman Miller. At the end of the program, Holt will receive an industrial maintenance certificate. The experience with Herman Miller gives her a chance to see a connection in the real world with skills she’s learned through F.I.R.S.T. Robotics, she said.